On the Big Island, Hamakua Councilman Dominic Yagong has introduced a measure, Bill 132, that would bolster transparency in government land sales. At present, when property is sold, the council does so through sealed bid, lease, trade, or adopts a resolution authorizing the transaction.
The finance director then may carry out the sale if the price is equivalent or exceeds the value determined by independent review. Yagong’s legislation would require follow-up approval by the council before the administration can sell 10 or more acres, or land worth at least $500,000.
Bill 132 proposes that when ten or more acres of County property are sold, the Department of Finance disclose to the public the bid price and terms, the intended use of the property, and the identities of the parties involved. Consequently, prior to a property sale, the council would vote on a resolution listing all relevant information in an open session, during which citizens would be able to voice their approval or disapproval of the sale at the committee and council levels.
Pete Hoffmann, who sits on the Council representing Kohala, wrote in the county paper, “We are supposed to safeguard the public. Transparency and accountability are elemental components of effective government not a plague . . . I fail to understand how any Council member can claim it’s not his/her job to insure the highest level of accountability in County activities.”
As Hoffmann observed, openness and transparency are distinguishing factors between an accountable, democratic government and a secretive, potentially dangerous one. If barred from the details of county land transactions or public comment, anything can be going on behind closed doors; business dealings, bribes, and other abuses of power.
Bill 132 protects the taxpayer and public interest. A good question is what those who oppose this significant piece of legislation have to hide.