Judge Rules to Review Secret Procurement Opinion in Akaku Case

 By the Akaku Team

Akaku: Maui Community Television enjoyed a small victory in the courts last week, regarding its lawsuit against the State Attorney General (AG) and the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs (DCCA).

In his Motion for Summary Judgment dated Monday, Sept. 29, Judge Joel August ordered the Defendants to release by Nov. 15 an AG opinion that has to this day been a secret for DCCA eyes only. Judge August will privately review the underlying premises that began this controversy more than three years ago before deciding whether or not to make it public.

At the crux of the lawsuit is the DCCA's and AG's take that Hawaii's cable access television stations should submit to a state procurement or bidding process. Meanwhile, Akaku's concern is that procurement behind closed doors on O`ahu would remove community voices from deciding who runs public access, and leave it up to state government agencies.

What's procurement? Procurement is basically a fancy way of saying that organizations would have to compete to serve the community's public, educational and governmental (PEG) access television needs. For certain goods or services, the procurement process allows the government to review a variety of proposals and identify the best product at the lowest cost—it's a form of shopping around.

In the case of the public's First Amendment rights, what's at stake is the increased chance that people's free access and free expression through cable TV channels will be diminished or curbed.

Since 2005, when the DCCA and the State Procurement Office—both armed with the secret AG opinion—began their crusade to submit Hawaii's PEG access organizations to the procurement process, they issued a request for proposals, or RFP, without any public input. Akaku, and `Olelo on O`ahu, immediately filed protests halting the procurement process. In 2007, Judge August suggested the DCCA establish criteria and make rules before setting loose on a bidding process.

We applaud Judge August for opposing secret opinions and decision-making when it comes to a community resource like Hawaii's community television organizations. Closed-door discussions are typical procedure for procurement, but we know it's not right for the open doors of community access television.


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