City & County of Honolulu Logs 200,000 Complaints in 5 Years – So What are Oahu Residents Unhappy About? The City Wants $109,970 to Find Out

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BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – The City & County of Honolulu, population 905,000, has had an estimated 200,000 complaints over the last 5 years, many submitted through its Department of Customer Services.

That doesn’t include complaints about Oahu’s now notorious number of potholes, which has garnered Oahu’s roadways a rating as one of the worst in the nation and most expensive to drivers enduring the cost of wear and damage.


So if not potholes, what are people complaining about?

Mike Freitas of the Customer Services Department, who responded Friday via certified mail to Hawaii Reporter’s Freedom of Information Request, says Hawaii Reporter can review those records within 20 business days to find out – but it will be costly – a total of $109,970 paid upfront by cashiers check. That’s the cost after his offer to lower the city’s record review charge by half from $1.25 a record at a cost of more than $200,000.

(Click on images to enlarge.)

Under Hawaii’s Uniform Information Practice Act or UIPA, public information is open for review through a Freedom of Information Act reqest within 10 business days, unless there is an on going investigation or personally identifiable information involved.

Both Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who resigned in July to run for governor, and his former managing director, now acting temporary mayor Kirk Caldwell, have pledged transparency and open government.

However, Freitas says the information is not available electronically as Hawaii Reporter requested and his staff would have to remove the names of those submitting complaints and then provide hard copies.

The Office of Information Practices, a state agency that is set up to help the media and public gain access to government information, responded to Hawaii Reporter’s query as to the reasonableness of the city’s charge of more than $109,000 (originally more than $200,000). Acting OIP Director Cathy Takase says the city’s request for copies of the record is not unreasonable, although she did not address Hawaii Reporter’s offer to review the records in house or get an electronic copy. She says that Hawaii Reporter’s offer to sign a confidentiality agreement is not suitable. She recommends requesting fewer records.

However, narrowing the search by 80 percent to one year of complaints is still pricy.

In one year, from August 9, 2009 until August 9, 2010, there were 15,155 complaints logged with this city department, Freitas says, adding that for Hawaii Reporter to access those complaints, it would cost an estimated $30,000.

Honolulu City Council Member Ann Kobayashi, who laughed out loud when she heard the cost for the city’s complaint records, says the bill for $109,000 plus is excessive.

“You are not trying to buy the Customer Service office, you are just trying to see copies of the complaints. Why are they charging citizens for this kind of information – the city should be transparent – the mayor always talks about being transparent.”

Kobayashi questions the original $200,000 – and even the city’s offer to lower the cost to $109,000. “Lucky the records are on sale for 50 percent off. Are you supposed to be grateful for 50 percent off? Get down on your knees and thank them? That is really amazing.”

Kobayashi says she too has been frustrated by the city adminstration’s lack of transparency on a number of issues.

Hawaii Reporter will continue to negotiate being able to review the complaint records, even if for just a month, and also to determine what the city is doing to respond to and resolve the complaints.

Reach Malia Zimmerman, editor of Hawaii Reporter, at