Here are some folks, past and present, who will speak to future generations.

If we may, could we introduce you to some people who will be around long after you and we have moved on to another place in the cosmos?

Meet Ian “Scotty” Campbell. If you’re lucky, some of his spunk and love of life will rub off on you. It did on us when we stumbled upon his remarkable world — a world that he spent much of his life building and then painting. He painted everything — including his straw hat and his sneakers. He painted the plants and the window glass. He painted messages on the sidewalk and even on his car.

There’s more. Keep on reading.

Scotty’s passion was building, dancing, painting and laughing. Kermit, on the other hand, learned from his Native American grandfather how to learn from horses. They would later call what he learned “horse whispering.” But what would happen when someone rescues a beautiful, white mare that was on her way to be turned into gourmet food for people in other countries? After all, what else can you do with a blind horse? Ask Kermit.

You’re too young to remember what made your grandparents or great-grandparents laugh each morning in the ’40s, ’50s or ’60s. They called them newspapers. The funny papers. No, it wasn’t MTV or anything high tech. One very popular cartoon was “The Strange World of Mr. Mum.” You can search the libraries or used bookstores and maybe find some of these clever “pantomime” cartoons (no printed words). But could you sit down and listen to the artist tell you how Mr. Mum came into the mind of his creator? Irv Phillips lived a long life, but he’s no longer around to tell his story. Well, he’s still around in the world of media because someone took the time to film him telling his story. And someone made it a point to keep the original video story and digitize it before it also vanishes. Please meet Irv Phillips and Mr. Mum — as he speaks to you from the year 1981.

It doesn’t matter who your are or how grumpy you can be, this beautiful woman will warm your heart and put a smile on your face that will last for hours. Catalina first told her story on camera more than 20 years ago. Heck, she was 71 at the time. Who would have dreamed that she could give us a reprise in her 90s? See how much you can learn about life in the late 1930s in Los Angeles. This video will enable her to tell her story forever.

Imagine the stories your family members or friends could tell to future generations. This is the place to learn how. Please stay tuned.

Oh, and let us know who you think would be a great candidate for a story or a video oral history. Leave comments, please. Tell us your favorite video here. There will be more — that is, if people let us know.

This blog has moved to http://www.sunshinechronicles.wordpress.com

I hope you’ll navigate your way to http://www.sunshinechronicles.wordpress.com to get the latest updates on this pursuit of transparency.

We’ve moved The Sunshine Chronicles to a new site

Now you can follow the antics of Don Ray and his associates at a more-aptly named blog Hawaii Sunshine Chronicles at http://www.sunshinechronicles.wordpress.com.

As 2008 comes to an end, still no response from Agency X

Fair play.

It’s the holiday season and I don’t believe that anybody expects much government activity, except maybe for emergency services and utilities. So the folks at Agency X (see the prior post), are receiving a courtesy reprieve. We’ve heard nothing from any of the officials we’ve contacted regarding our request to talk about the exaggerated estimates of time it would take the staff to provide Grassroot Institute of Hawaii with a handful of travel documents.

To recap the situation, Grassroot Institute staff sent out a “trial balloon” request for copies of expense accounts relating to any travel to the Mainland or to foreign countries. They sent them to all of the major state agencies. The goal was twofold: first, to have the travel information to post in database form on the Grassroot Institute websites, and second, to see how responsive these state agencies really are.

It was a softball request. Kids stuff. Not too much chance of there being anything too terribly controversial. I’m an outsider, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. I never, however, anticipated government officials having the audacity to suggest that it could take 50 hours or more to simply go to their file cabinets and pull the documents. And once they would have the documents in hand, how could it be possible to need 50 or 60 more staff hours to remove the minimal personal information from the documents they needed 50 hours to retrieve.

Outrageous, but a number of state agencies responded with what’s clearly inflated estimates. What we don’t know is whether these are typical responses. Does every citizen encounter this kind of resistance? We’ll find out and report the findings.

For now, we’re giving every possible benefit of any imaginable doubt to Agency X to do something that requires no legal advice whatsoever: we simply want someone to respond to our requests to talk about the situation.

We’d like to hear from readers about the way we’re handling this stalemate. I admit that I’m a new guy to the islands and I have practically no experience dealing with officials with the Hawaii state government. However, I’m not new to making requests for records and documents that are supposed to be open for inspection. I’ve had to roll up my sleeves on many occasions and, once in a great while, turn to attorneys to press the case in court.

I’ve never, however, had officials at an agency avoid me over something as innocent as a travel document or, even worse, a simple request for an agency’s internal telephone directory.

Think of 2009 as the “Year of Transparency in Government.”

Foot-dragging agency dodges citizen contact

A commentary by Don Ray

Benefit of the doubt.

Every government agency deserves the benefit of the doubt — especially since I’m a new guy to the islands. After all, I won’t know for a while what to expect when I make a simple request to examine even the most innocuous of public record documents. Heck, I’ve been walked into offices where the staff members practically roll out a red carpet and strike up the band on my behalf. On the flip side, I’ve had many experiences in where it appears that the staff members have gutted their offices of every record that I could possibly want to view. It’s as if an advancing army will soon break down the doors and rummage through the debris in search of the enemy’s strategic battle plans.

So when my associate and I walked through the doors of one agency a couple of weeks ago, I didn’t know what to expect. Even when they told us that the gentleman with whom we wished to speak was unavailable, I took it in stride. I never imagined, however, that my simple request to talk with one official would turn put the agency in the defensive mode.

I’m intentionally withholding the name of the specific agency until I determine whether I’m dealing with apathy, incompetence, outright resistence or a public access slugfest. Again, I don’t yet know what the norm is. My sense of fair play prevents me from using the power of my virtual pen to paint an inaccurate picture of an agency or its staff.

It all started before I accepted the contract position with Grassroot Institute of Hawaii as its “Transparency Correspondent”.  Policy Analyst Pearl Hahn had sent to each of the major state agencies a request for copies of travel expense reports relating to any travel outside of the Hawaiian Islands. She had followed the letter of the law. The goal was to compile the records and post them as part of a database that would enable anyone to monitor any foreign or Mainland travel by any state employee.

Simple enough.

When I arrived, I wasn’t at all surprised that nearly all of the agencies had responded with estimates of the amount of time it would take their staff to locate, retrieve and remove personal information from the records before they could copy them and send them. Indeed, some agencies in some states would simply send the copies right away, but the cost and time estimates were not at all uncommon.

What was uncommon — at least from my perspective — was that some of the agencies were telling us that they would require upwards of a hundred hours to process and send the documents.

So Pearl and I decided to make a personal visit to one of the agencies to see if we could alter her initial request to make the task a little easier. The official who had sent us the response in this case wasn’t available. He was out of the office. A few days later, Pearl arranged to meet with the official and returned less than satisfied with is explanation as to why it would take so long. She asked me if I’d go back to hear what he had to say.

The gentleman was, indeed, in his office when we arrived on that visit a week or so later, but a most polite secretary told us that he was very busy. When I asked her if we could wait until he came up for air — we would only need about three minutes of his time — she told us that it was impossible.

“He asked that you send him an e-mail,” she said. “He needs a request in writing.

I had a notebook with me, so I wrote the most polite request for his time and asked her to give it to him.

When she returned with another polite rejection, we asked her for something very simple — something that just about every agency has at hand — a copy of the agency’s telephone directory. She claimed, however, that she didn’t have the authority to give it out. Our response was standard procedure for citizens pressing for cooperation.

“OK, would you please allow us to make the request of someone who has the authority to provide us with a copy?”

She played the “Mr. X is the only one who can make that decision and, as I told you, he’s not available. You’ll have to put that request in writing.”

Another sheet from my legal pad and she would soon have another written request. While she was out of our sight, a most helpful appearing young employee stepped out of his cubicle and notices us sittting in the reception area. He started to walk our way and say, “Can I help . . .” when someone out of our sight caught his attention and, no doubt, sent a body language message that said something akin to “Wait! Don’t talk to them!” or something like that. Whatever it was, it worked. He instantly got the message and did an “about face”. He retreated into his cubicle without even a trace of eye contact with us. When the secretary returned for my second handwritten request, we thanked her and left the office.

Pearl called the official a while later to apologize for any inconvenience we might have caused him or his secretary. I wrote an e-mail to him in which, again, I requested the opportunity to meet with him for a few minutes. I also mentioned that it was possible that the time and cost estimate he sent to us was either a communication error or an interpretation problem. If not, I suggested, the only other possibility was that he was intentionally trying to discourage us from getting the information. There was one more possibility, I pondered. The only other explanation was that his agency was woefully inefficient, which would be of great concern to us and to our readers.

More than a week later, he had still not responded, so we made contact with that agency’s Public Information Officer. Our official request was, once again, for an agency telephone list, but we mentioned the frustration we were having getting someone to agree to speak with us about the original request.

The PIO responded fairly quickly — I’m not certain if our call to the state’s duty attorney assigned to the Office of Information Practices accounted for the promptness, however. The only thing that came out of the e-mail was a link to the agency’s phone listing. However, it didn’t include anyone’s names. They’d have to write the names in by hand.

In case you’re unfamiliar with indicators of lack of cooperation, you should know that this is the time to sound the citizen’s alarm. I wrote back to say that I was astounded that employees throughout that agency had no way of knowing the phone numbers of specific staff members in their own agency. Surely, I wrote, there’s something sitting on every desk or in the computer that had the information. Please copy it and make it available to us, I said.

The most recent response was that the PIO had discovered a listing somewhere and was e-mailing it to us. With regard to our request to meet someone in person, the e-mail stated:

Because there appears to have been some miscommunication and/or misunderstanding in the past, it is probably best that we correspond in writing.

Here we go again.

I’m sharing this long story with you so that you can see an example of what we hope we won’t find when we visit other agencies. Again, it’s not fair to identify this agency until we’re certain that we understand the reason for everything seeming to look so peculiar.

And, of course, we hope that other government officials think twice before they try to brush us aside — or brush any member of the public aside.

Sometimes we have to remind them about the presumption of openness and transparency.

Standby for updates on this silly saga.

Welcome to The Sunshine Chronicles

This is the first of what will be many entries on this new blog. It’s about the stuff that I dig up as I poke around places, meet interesting folks and live the life of an ever-curious journalist.

Oh, my name is Don Ray.

I’m funded by the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii, http://www.grassrootinstitute.org. My title is “Transparency Correspondent”. My task is to report on all levels of government in Hawaii. I’m looking specifically for juicy examples of government waste, misuse of the people’s hard-earned tax dollars, corruption, cronyism or just plain poor performance on the part of our public servants.

I hope you’ll check in occasionally and watch “the new guy” as he finds his way around a world that’s new and different for him.

I’ve been involved in investigations for more than 40 years — 30 years as a journalist. I’ve spent most of my time in Southern California. I was born in Hollywood. But I’ve done in-depth reporting in many of the United States and in dozens of other countries on five continents. I’ve also trained hundreds of journalists in Third-World countries and other developing democracies. My specialty is the kind of watchdog journalism that ferrets our corruption, election fraud, consumer fraud and incompetence within government.

Indeed, I’m going to need a lot of help, so I hope that you’ll feel free to post comments on this blog or e-mail me at donray@donray.com. Yes, I do accept anonymous phone calls. You can reach me at (808) 450-2009.