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Lawsuit: closed-door board of ed meeting violated sunshine law 

Credit:  By Suevon Lee | Honolulu Civil Beat | www.civilbeat.org ~~

A Kahuku mom says school officials aren’t listening to community concerns over giant wind turbines going up in the neighborhood.

Now, Sunny Kim Unga is suing the state Board of Education for shutting her out of a meeting where she hoped to convince board members to accept public input.

A lawsuit filed recently in First Circuit Court says the BOE violated the state’s open meetings law when it decided behind closed doors to reject her request.

Unga, the mother of two children at Kahuku Elementary, lives near the wind energy project being developed by AES Corp. near Kahuku Agriculture Park. She’s unhappy that the state Department of Education never asked the school community to weigh in with its concerns before DOE commented on an environmental impact statement in 2016.

“I personally feel this (project) will affect the health and safety and well-being of our children,” Unga said in an interview. “What happens if there is malfunction in the blade and a tower collapses, what about fire, how would that affect toxic fumes?”

Unga wants the Board of Education to adopt a new rule to require the DOE to hold school community meetings over proposed developments within 5 miles of a school or library. She wants DOE to consider the views of school community members before submitting comments to a government agency or private developer.

Unga has been trying since September to get the issue in front of education officials. On Feb. 11 she got a letter from the BOE telling her that her petition was heard on Feb. 6, but denied. The board contends it isn’t required to hold public hearings when it comes to petitions like Unga’s.

Under the state’s Sunshine Law, all boards and agencies in Hawaii are required to provide notice of a meeting six days before it takes place, including laying out the agenda and giving the public an opportunity to provide written or oral testimony.

“Somebody decided they just didn’t have to do it, and they didn’t apparently,” said Unga’s attorney, Lance Collins. “To me, I’m a little baffled by why all this happened but I know bureaucracy moves at its own velocity and own direction.”

The written BOE decision mailed to Unga in February lays out the board’s rationale for denial: that DOE does not have authority over proposed developments unless they are on DOE-owned land; that it does not have authority over non-school based public libraries; and that the comments it provides to other agencies reflect its own view, not those of the community.

Unga wants the Board of Education to adopt a new rule to require the DOE to hold school community meetings over proposed developments within 5 miles of a school or library. She wants DOE to consider the views of school community members before submitting comments to a government agency or private developer.

Unga has been trying since September to get the issue in front of education officials. On Feb. 11 she got a letter from the BOE telling her that her petition was heard on Feb. 6, but denied. The board contends it isn’t required to hold public hearings when it comes to petitions like Unga’s.

Under the state’s Sunshine Law, all boards and agencies in Hawaii are required to provide notice of a meeting six days before it takes place, including laying out the agenda and giving the public an opportunity to provide written or oral testimony.

“Somebody decided they just didn’t have to do it, and they didn’t apparently,” said Unga’s attorney, Lance Collins. “To me, I’m a little baffled by why all this happened but I know bureaucracy moves at its own velocity and own direction.”

The written BOE decision mailed to Unga in February lays out the board’s rationale for denial: that DOE does not have authority over proposed developments unless they are on DOE-owned land; that it does not have authority over non-school based public libraries; and that the comments it provides to other agencies reflect its own view, not those of the community.

Source:  By Suevon Lee | Honolulu Civil Beat | www.civilbeat.org

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial educational effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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