Chair’s 3 Minutes: Making vs. implementing policy: What the council does

As County Council members, our jobs don’t end at the pound of the gavel.

Our schedules include community meetings, educational seminars and other events to help us gather information from policy experts, each of our residency districts and the whole Maui Nui community. We spend a lot of time outside of the public eye, conducting research and analysis on potential legislation and addressing constituents’ concerns.

Constituent casework

As elected officials, we often get stopped by constituents, sometimes in a restaurant or at a grocery store, and field questions and requests for help on various issues. We also get a lot of calls and emails at our offices and addressing them is a big part of our job.

We often need to work with the appropriate county departments to resolve issues. For example, complaints about potholes might require a call or a letter to the Department of Public Works. For inquiries about Maui Bus routes, we’ll consult with the Department of Transportation.

If your concern is something pertaining to a policy that can be drafted, amended or reviewed, we move into lawmaking mode.

Legislative research

Before we know whether an ordinance can fix a problem, we check with our professional staff in the central council office.

Does the county have jurisdiction, or is it a state or federal matter? What is the precedent in the three other Hawaii counties or from Mainland municipalities?

These are the issues the council’s researchers look into. If we find that an ordinance may work, a bill will be drafted, signed by an attorney in the corporation counsel’s office and sent to the council to start the legislative process.

Legislative meetings

The legislative branch – the nine-member County Council – creates the laws. The executive branch – led by Mayor Alan Arakawa and his Cabinet – implements the laws.

The council determines your real property tax rates, water fees, bus fares, and how much money the administration can use to maintain and build, for example, a proposed new park facility. The council also has certain powers that provide oversight of the executive branch as a means of checks and balances for the county. We conduct our legislative business in public meetings, and the council’s decisions are often heavily influenced by public testimony.

Generally, the council refers proposed legislation to its eight standing committees, each chaired by a different council member. The committees are designed to expedite the business of the council. The names of the committees give you an idea of what topics are included on their agendas. If you are interested in learning about committee assignments, review Resolution 13-4 located on the county website.

In fiscal year 2012, council members spent more than 815 hours participating in 190 committee meetings. We adopted 140 resolutions and passed 129 ordinances. These documents are all available online, including the ones recently adopted, for the public’s review.

To find out more information about the County Council and committee meeting schedules, please visit

A hui hou.

* Gladys C. Baisa is chairwoman of the Maui County Council. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters.