Ballot questions to amend county charter progressing

CHAIR'S 3 MINUTES

Last week, the County Council’s Policy, Economic Development and Agriculture committee, which I chair, recommended the passage of two resolutions to amend the Maui County Charter.

The first of two proposed charter amendments increases the fine for the illegal operation of transient accommodations like short-term rental homes and bed-and-breakfasts from $1,000 to as much as $20,000, plus an additional $10,000 per day the illegal operation persists. In a Land Use Committee meeting this year, representatives from the Planning Department said there could be as many as 3,000 to 8,000 illegal transient accommodation operations throughout the county. Significantly increasing the fine will hopefully deter illegal transient accommodation operations — a rapidly growing issue countywide, which has a direct impact on the cost of housing and state and county tax revenues.

The second proposed charter amendment would require legal claims be filed with the Department of the Corporation Counsel, the county’s legal agency, rather than the county clerk. This process will provide faster replies to questions on pending claims against the county.

There are other proposed charter amendments that, if passed by council, may also be placed on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. One such proposal would change our current system of governance, giving the managing director, as the county’s chief operating officer, more authority than the mayor to appoint and remove many department heads and control, manage and execute an operating budget and capital program. The mayor would merely act as the county’s chief executive officer.

Given that the majority of current mayoral responsibilities would be performed by the managing director, the mayor’s office becomes more of a figurehead and would have less power under the proposal.

The proposal indicates the budget would be prepared by the mayor in consultation with the managing director, despite the mayor’s lack of oversight over departmental leadership. That responsibility would rest with the managing director.

As we continue to vet the proposal, taxpayers should be aware of how much this could cost the county. How much will the county manager be paid? And what will the terms and conditions of the contract look like?

According to a report from the International City/County Management Association, the pay range for county managers in similar jurisdictions ranges from $180,000 to $200,000 anually. Term limits on the service of the county manager and department heads under the proposed structure are also unclear.

Another undervetted component is the recruitment process for hiring the managing director. By ordinance, the proposal recommends a three-member citizen advisory committee, the mayor and the council chair select and nominate a candidate for the managing director position, followed by council confirmation of the nominee; however, the qualifications and selection process of the citizen advisory committee members are unclear.

Other charter amendment proposals expand the use of the Open Space, Natural Resources, Cultural Resources and Scenic Views Preservation Fund to include the maintenance and safety of open space lands owned by the county; establish a Department of Land Management; establish an Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency; and reform the appointment and removal process for the director of water supply.

At Tuesday’s meeting, my committee heard supportive testimony about several of these proposals, particularly those related to climate change and expanding the use of the Open Space Fund. Members of the public iterated a view that dealing with climate change today is not an option, an opinion I share with like members of the community.

These charter amendments are important, and whether you support them or not, your voice should be heard. I encourage you to attend the next council meeting on July 6 to tell us what you think about the proposed charter amendments relating to claims and penalties. And I especially encourage you to get out and vote in the upcoming primary election on Aug. 11 and, more importantly, the general election on Nov. 6.

Mahalo.

* Yuki Lei Sugimura is chair of the County Council’s Policy, Economic Development and Agriculture Committee. She holds the council seat for the Upcountry residency area. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

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