Group develops new proposal calling for a county manager

VIEWPOINT

A little over a year ago the County Council’s Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee bottled up the council-appointed Special Committee on Governance’s recommendation that a charter change in favor of “county-manager” government be placed on the November 2016 ballot, which would have given citizens the right to decide whether our county charter, adopted 50 years ago, should be amended to bring professional management to county operations.

The special committee’s recommendation, which called for a professional manager to be hired by and report to the council, had many supporters, but there were critics as well. Often-heard criticisms were that (1) it did away with the balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of government, (2) created a mostly ceremonial mayor, (3) created nine bosses for a manager where only one exists today, and (4) denied citizens a single point of contact (a mayor) when needing to petition local government.

Taking these concerns to heart, those advocating for change to a professional management structure have developed a new proposal calling for the manager to be hired by and report to the mayor, enabling the manager to hire key directors, and doing away with the current charter provision requiring all administrative directors to resign with each mayoral term.

This simple revised structure is superior to that developed by the special committee because it retains the balance of power between branches of government, keeps a meaningful mayor, makes clear that a manager will have only one boss while preserving a single point of contact for citizens and doing away with forced and costly turnover connected to political cycles. Through this modern organizational structure, the county will be better positioned to hire the best management talent, retain able directors and their institutional knowledge, all without regard to politically driven mayoral election cycles, thereby promoting professionalism in place of cronyism and turnover.

In answer to those questioning the need for additional charter changes in the face of a recently approved charter amendment mandating creation of job descriptions for certain director positions, a long overdue and basic concept, consider the following:

First, the current charter describes the managing director as a mere aide to the mayor. This won’t change with a new job description because the word “aide” is baked into the charter. Some mayors may use these aides wisely, some may not, depending on the sophistication, knowledge, experience and mindset of the elected mayor. And, because the position is described in menial terms, high-quality, career-minded professionals are not likely to apply.

Second, because all directors must resign with each mayoral election cycle, the whole process is politicized (consider the current managing director’s statement just a few years back that his key job objective was to get the mayor re-elected), and the best candidates for director positions are discouraged from applying because they know these positions are time-limited, despite how well they perform. Career and family security are simply not available. Citizens lose in the bargain: We don’t get the best people and turnover is a known drag on organizational success and operational efficiency.

Third, as mayoral terms wind down, so do remaining terms of office for directors. Filling stub director terms near the end of a mayor’s time in office is particularly difficult, often resulting in the appointment of lower quality and ineffective directors.

We need the council, starting with the committee chaired by Yuki Lei Sugimura, to put discussion of this charter change proposal on the agenda so that a well-developed charter amendment proposal can be placed on the November 2018 ballot for voters to decide.

The current county charter was approved 50 years ago when our population was 38,000, the economy was agriculturally based and the world was much less complex. It needs to be improved to continue to meet our needs over the next 50.

Let Council Member Sugimura (yukilei.sugimura@mauicounty.us) and her colleagues know you want this heard.

* Mark Hyde is a Kihei resident and is one of a number of citizens working under the umbrella of ForthegoodofMaui.org to bring better and more accountable government to Maui County.

COMMENTS