WAILUKU - Members of the Maui County Charter Commission were sworn in Monday, kicking off what's expected to be an intense 16-month process to propose major changes to how the county operates.
Mayor Alan Arakawa appointed Paia businessman Josh Stone chairman of the 11-member panel. Commissioners could not immediately decide on a choice for vice chairman, so the vote was deferred to a future meeting.
Arakawa said the commission's work would be "very critical and very important." He urged panelists to think about the potential long-term effects of their decisions and to use "common sense" as they review potential changes to the county's charter.
"You're going to be torn by a lot of sentimental arguments. You're going to be given a lot of statistics. You're going to be told a lot of things," he said. "All I ask is that you apply logic, understanding, patience and compassion."
The panel is tasked with proposing amendments to the Maui County Charter, which will be decided by voters in the 2012 general election.
Several people offered testimony to commission members in their first meeting as a group.
With the makeup and electoral process of county council districts expected to be a major issue on the horizon, Kula resident Alan Kaufman urged commissioners to put their personal feelings aside.
"A huge issue that should not be decided by those who we elect is how those individuals are elected and how long they should serve," he said. "That issue is so huge, the only parties who should determine that are the voters. That is the essence of democracy."
Jim Smith warned commissioners to be wary of government officials who try to abuse their power - including Arakawa, who Smith said he did not believe had the right to appoint the commission's chairman.
"Shouldn't you be appointing your own chair?" he asked.
And Wailuku resident Sally Raisbeck said she hoped the commission would avoid meeting behind closed doors in executive session.
"I have seen this power abused a lot," she said.
Linda Kay Okamoto, Stephanie Stacy Crivello, Artemio Baxa, Dave DeLeon, Wayne Hedani, Yuki Lei Sugimura, Flo Wiger, Clifford Hashimoto, Frank De Rego Jr., Susan Moikeha and Stone were appointed to the commission last month by the Maui County Council.
Stone said he was eager to move forward with the commission's work.
"I think we're going to do some good things here," he said.
The charter commission's next meeting is scheduled for noon to 4 p.m. May 23 in the Planning Department conference room in the Kalana Pakui Building.
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at email@example.com.