For Immediate Release: July 24, 2020
Press Release by: Alice L. Lee, Council Chair
Maui County Council
Council meetings will continue via video conferencing as public health and accessibility remain priorities
WAILUKU, Hawai‘i—Council Chair Alice L. Lee noted the county’s executive-branch boards and commissions are meeting via BlueJeans, and many community events are being rescheduled to online settings or later meeting dates to comply with public-health officials’ social-distancing recommendations. She disagreed with Mayor Michael P. Victorino’s suggestion, issued by press release on Thursday, that the council return to in-person meetings in the Council Chamber.
“Our decisions are guided by our concern for the public’s health and our commitment to accessible government,” Lee said. “We see the state set two single-day records yesterday and today for new coronavirus infections and the Department of Health is cautioning about the possible need to impose additional restrictions on gatherings.”
Citing public health and accessibility, Lee announced today that the Maui County Council and its standing committees will continue to meet exclusively via video conference, at least as long as the governor’s emergency proclamation on COVID-19 remains in effect and perhaps longer if state law is amended.
The council has been meeting exclusively via the BlueJeans videoconferencing system since Governor David Y. Ige’s stay-at-home order took effect in late March, Lee said. She noted county residents, good-government groups and media commentators have lauded the council’s efforts to continue to conduct business while maintaining the public’s ability to watch and testify at meetings.
“The council has been meeting via video conferencing for four months, even when the County Building was closed to the public,” Lee said. “We have actually increased transparency and accessibility by allowing Lanai, Maui and Molokai residents to testify by phone or Internet from home.
“We’ve even had people testify from their parked cars, from the beach and from the supermarket. It’s never been easier to tell the council how you feel about a bill or resolution.”
Lee credited Council Vice-Chair Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, who chairs the Economic Development and Budget Committee, with spearheading the council’s transition to remote meetings during a successful budget session with daily meetings through much of the spring. In an April 5 story (“Maui officials rely on technology to conduct business in time of social separation”) the Honolulu Star Advertiser wrote that in the budget session the public was “rewarded with intimate glimpses of their representatives they wouldn’t get from a normal public meeting.”
“Remote meetings have provided our constituents with safe opportunities to engage in the legislative process while also allowing the nine councilmembers to remain in their respective communities to provide support to our constituents during these trying times,” Rawlins-Fernandez said.
The governor’s emergency proclamation, currently effective through Aug. 31, has partially suspended the state’s open meetings act, known as the Sunshine Law, to allow councilmembers to meet and accept testimony via video conference. Lee and Rawlins-Fernandez submitted testimony to the state legislature last month seeking permanent amendments to the Sunshine Law to facilitate online meetings.
“We have demonstrated the success of videoconferencing technology under these extreme conditions, have facilitated ethical meetings ensuring councilmembers would not be excluded from deliberations or a vote due to connectivity issues, and have even improved public engagement,” Rawlins-Fernandez said in her testimony. “As a Molokai resident, I have long advocated for the ability to testify remotely at county and state meetings.
“It took a pandemic to force us to make it happen for our constituents and now, we should never go back. Everyone has raved about how much easier and more accessible it has been to participate in government, something we, as policymakers should always strive for.”
“For a multi-island county like ours, videoconference meetings ensure that constituents and even councilmembers who reside far from the county seat of Wailuku continue to have an equal opportunity to be heard,” Lee said. “I am not willing to let political pressure dictate decisions that impact public health and safety.”
In a May 10 story (“Maui Council Has Figured Out How To Do Virtual Meetings Right”), Honolulu Civil Beat wrote: “With BlueJeans, council meetings run almost normally. Committees hear public testimony, get presentations from the administration and move legislation.”