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Honolulu Council Pushes for Virtual Meetings Permanently

A Honolulu City Council resolution urges the city to allow virtual meetings to be a permanent option for city commissions and boards, with a focus on Oahu's neighborhood boards and the City Council.

by Mark Ladao, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser / February 16, 2021
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(TNS) — A Honolulu City Council resolution urges the city to allow virtual meetings to be a permanent option for city commissions and boards, with a focus on Oahu's neighborhood boards and the City Council.

By emergency proclamation in March, Gov. David Ige suspended parts of Hawaii's Sunshine Law, which governs how state and city meetings are held, to allow public board meetings to be conducted remotely.

After relying primarily on online meetings for months, many have found there are good reasons for keeping the option to participate virtually, even in nonemergency times.

Introduced in late January by Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga, urges increased flexibility for electronic participation across a broad range of public meetings to increase and ensure "effective citizen participation in local government."

Fukunaga, chairwoman of the Committee on Public Infrastructure and Technology, said during a committee meeting Wednesday that now is a good time to update policies regarding public meetings.

"As we are now into our second year of adjusting to COVID conditions, it seemed like an appropriate time for the Honolulu City Council to also evaluate ways that we could make public participation a lot easier, " she said.

Teleconferencing wasn't an option for Oahu's 33 neighborhood boards before the pandemic, but for months now the panels have been meeting in person, remotely or by both means.

"Pre-COVID, the status quo was that you're meeting in person. There was no real option to meet virtually because from an IT (information technology ) perspective at the time, it just wasn't feasible, " said Bryan Choe, chairman of the Neighborhood Board Commission.

With some technical assistance from the city, Choe said, board members, public officials and community residents have been able to participate in the meetings online.

"Most board members prefer to meet in person ... but there are some now, particularly with the COVID scare, who prefer to stay away from public meetings, " said Robert Finley, chairman of the Waikiki Neighborhood Board.

The coronavirus threat is the clear motivator for remotely held meetings, but Finley said the goal is to update the Neighborhood Plan, which governs how the boards meet, to allow virtual participation even beyond the pandemic.

The City Council in August suspended in-person testimony, and has prohibited the public from physically attending meetings but continues to accept virtual testimony.

The resolution follows a handful of legislative bills, specifically House Bills 880 and 166 and Senate Bills 1034 and 439, that would permit boards to hold public meetings virtually by amending the state's Sunshine Law.

A proposed draft of the resolution was passed out of Wednesday's committee meeting, and Fukunaga said it will have to go through the full Council on Wednesday before it can be adopted.

(c)2021 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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