Big Island Press Club announces annual Torch of Light, Lava Tube awards for 2020

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James Hustace
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The Big Island Press Club awards its annual meritorious Torch of Light Award to James Hustace and the Waimea Community Association and the Lava Tube dishonor award to Gov. David Ige.

The Torch of Light award is given annually to an individual or entity for brightening the public’s right to know, while the Lava Tube dishonor is given for a lack of communication and keeping the public in the dark. The awards are announced yearly on March 16, Freedom of Information Day, the birthday of James Madison, who was widely regarded as the father of the U.S. Constitution and the leading advocate of openness in government.

BIPC selected Hustace and the Waimea Community Association where Hustace currently serves as president as its Torch of Light awardee this year for keeping the islandwide community informed during a pandemic and an election year. In April, the organization hosted a virtual townhall meeting on Facebook with Lt. Gov. Josh Green, Sens. Dru Kanuha and Lorraine Inouye, Reps. Richard Creagan, Nicole Lowen and David Tarnas, and County Council members Maile David, Rebecca Villegas, Karen Eoff, and Tim Richards to discuss the latest with COVID-19.

Fine-tuning that virtual event, in May, over a period of three days, the community association hosted three candidate forums that included all of the mayoral primary candidates. The Waimea Community Association added additional live streaming content over the year, connecting constituents with campaigners and elected officials islandwide well beyond the borders of Waimea. Hustace led the technological charge at the community association to bring these virtual events to life.

On March 16, 2020, Ige imposed what Civil Beat called “one of the most extreme anti-transparency measures executed in the U.S.” when he suspended Chapter 92F, HRS, the Uniform Information Practices Act in a supplementary proclamation signed that day.

“It’s sadly ironic that the governor did this on March 16, Freedom of Information Day” said Big Island Press Club President Nancy Cook Lauer.

The Big Island Press Club understands that some government services had to be delayed in the early stages of reacting to a pandemic. But in the ensuing year, this ban on public records access has been only partially lifted, despite urgent calls to lift it by media, journalism groups and members of the state Legislature. The Big Island Press Club believes the ability of one branch of government to unilaterally slam the door on access by the public to their own public records is something that should be taken seriously.

As part of its mission statement, the Big Island Press Club believes public records belong to the people, not the government.

“The hunger for fact-based information is never more intense than during an emergency, and when that information is hard to come by, people often resort to rumors and speculation,” said Lauer. “One would think that’s the last thing the government would want in a declared emergency.”