Let Public See City Council's Legal Opinions

Honolulu Star - Advertiser, October 11, 2014 | Go to article overview

Let Public See City Council's Legal Opinions


This week, the Honolulu City Council debated and ultimately voted to release two legal opinions about a controversial hotel zoning bill. That discussion, which led to the unprecedented disclosure move, illuminated why these opinions should be made public as a general rule, allowing for sensible exceptions.

The opinions involved Bill 16, a proposal to ban hotel-room conversions to condominium units, or make them more difficult for property owners and developers, a measure favored by Unite HERELocal 5 because of concerns about reduced hotel jobs.

Leaders of that hotel workers union were upset when City Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga, who chairs the Council's Committee on Public Safety and Economic Development, decided to shelve the bill. The union's political action committee backed Joli Tokusato to challenge Fukunaga's re-election; Tokusato did not make the cut for the run-off in the general election, but the issue remains alive in the campaign.

Fukunaga has said her decision was based on the legal opinions provided by attorneys with the city Department of Corporation Counsel, but could not release them because the Council attorney-client privilege applied and disclosure would need a vote.

That vote, 8-1, happened on Wednesday, and the Council was free to go public with the explanation for killing the bill. City attorneys had told the Council in the written opinions that the bill was flawed and called for action outside the Council's jurisdiction.

Political opponents have said this hasn't erased their displeasure with the handling of the bill, but clearly the release of the opinions at this juncture helps Fukunaga make her case to the voters. …

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