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County Council Urges Permanent Online Meetings

Maui County Council News Release

The National Association of Counties will honor Maui County with an Achievement Award for “Enhancing Civic Engagement Through Online Legislative Meetings” at the NACo Annual Con-ference in Prince George’s County, Maryland, on July 11.

On March 16, 2020, Governor David Y. Ige issued his first COVID-19 emergency proclamation, which partially suspended public meetings statute, known as the Sunshine Law, to authorize online meetings.

Meetings held during the emergency weren’t required to be open to the public. “Boards” subject to the Sunshine Law, including the Maui County Council and its committees, were merely asked to “consider reasonable measures to allow public participation.”

The council decided to prioritize openness.

Maui County was faced with many serious challenges at the pandemic’s onset. Consequently, the legislative branch’s operations couldn’t continue as normal. The issues were exacerbated by Maui County’s unique geography, with residents on three different islands.

On March 25, 2020, Maui County Mayor Michael P. Victorino issued the first stay-at-home or-der. That same day, he presented his fiscal year 2021 budget proposal.

Under the Maui County Charter, the council had until June 10 to complete its annual budget de-liberations. This process typically includes day-long committee meetings and off-site meetings in each residency area for more than a month.

Council Vice-Chair Keani Rawlins-Fernandez of Molokai, chair of the budget committee, and her unrelenting staff introduced the council to BlueJeans videoconferencing platform, which changed the course of public interaction, communications and critical legislative operations in Maui County.

Councilmembers were determined to keep the lines of communication open between residents and their elected representatives—while also protecting public health and safety.

By early May 2020, all council and committee meetings were being conducted online, increasing accessibility and responsiveness, with 172 online meetings conducted last year.

Prior to the pandemic, meetings were usually held in the Council Chamber in Wailuku and members of the public could provide testimony either in person or via phone from our district offices.

Because of the benefits to our constituents, the council is trying to make live testimony via phone and videoconference a part of the new normal, even after the emergency declaration expires. But we need Governor Ige’s help.

At the council’s behest, the State Legislature passed Senate Bill 1034 (2021), which would amend the Sunshine Law to permanently allow online meetings, as of Jan 1. Please join us in urging the governor to sign the bill.

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