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Pressure grows for transparency as Honolulu’s fire commission secretly votes for next chief

Published: Aug. 4, 2021 at 6:03 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Pressure is growing for less secrecy by the Honolulu Fire Commission as it searches for a new chief.

The important decision is being handled mostly behind closed doors.

Both government watchdog groups and council members say decisions that impact safety should be available for the public to review.

The two finalists are Acting Chief Lionel Camara, Jr. and Acting Deputy Chief Sheldon Kalani Hao.

Commissioners have reportedly voted already and Hawaii News Now sources say they are deadlocked, three for Camara and three for Hao.

It’s been difficult to confirm because the volunteer panel, made up of citizens, is doing all deliberations in executive sessions, closed to the public.

“Given the responsibility of the chief, that the chief is setting policy for the entire department, more transparency, more accountability should occur with that position,” said Sandra Ma, of Common Cause Hawaii.

The Hawaii Firefighters Association is also calling for the vote to be held in open session.

“I don’t know what they have to hide and what they’re afraid of,” said Aaron Lenchanko, the association’s Treasurer.

“The public pays the bills and I think that they have a right to know,“ he said.

Even Honolulu City Council members have noticed the lack of openness with the important decision.

Councilwoman Carol Fukunaga said her constituents are even pointing out that the fire panel is less accessible than other boards and commissions.

Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi agreed and is trying to get commissioners to appear before the council’s Public Safety Committee.

She delayed the confirmation of a new commissioner, Dave Matlin, who could break the tie.

Tsuneyoshi said that was because she wanted to have an open discussion with the panel members, Matlin and the union representatives.

“We have reached out for a meeting with the fire commission, we haven’t got a response to that meeting yet, so that is also of concern,” she said.

On the flip side, the Honolulu Police Commission plans to have their vote for the next chief in the open session. Their meetings are also on YouTube, so anyone can view.

While the Honolulu Fire Commission holds meetings only via telephone.

No video is provided and the meetings are laden with technical problems.

In the last meeting there was feedback when some people spoke. Someone had music playing in the background. And the commission had to end the meeting and restart it telling the listeners.

“Thank you everybody for calling in. I’m sure you’re aware, we’re having some technical difficulties identifying all of the callers,” said the voice running the meeting.

HNN did reach out to the commissioners for comment on this story.

Late Wednesday afternoon, group Secretary Nadine Murata sent an email that only said the commission chair was out of town.

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