WAILUKU - Maui County Council members on Friday considered proposing charter amendments that would give them veto power over the mayor's choices for planning, finance and managing directors.
Council members said that the change could provide more accountability and oversight for the county's most critical department heads, some of whom could step in to lead the county if the mayor were incapacitated. But a majority of council members seemed to have reservations about the proposals, saying the mayor should have the power to choose the most important members of his management team.
"If I was the mayor, I'd certainly want the authority to appoint the managing director," said Council Member Gladys Baisa. "I think we should leave it alone."
The council Policy Committee was reviewing proposals by the volunteer Charter Commission, as well as discussing charter amendments being proposed by individual council members. The council has until April 29 to review the Charter Commission's proposals and make recommendations or suggest alternatives. The commission has the authority to accept or reject the council's suggestions.
The Policy Committee has scheduled a meeting for 10 a.m. Tuesday in Council Chambers of the Kalana O Maui building to vote on its recommendations to the Charter Commission.
The council also can propose its own charter amendments without going through the Charter Commission.
Proposals that move forward will be placed on ballots in the November general election for voters to decide.
The proposals that would require council approval of the mayor's Cabinet appointments were introduced by council members.
Currently, the council must approve the prosecutor, county clerk and water director, while all other department heads can be appointed by the mayor without review.
Earlier this week, Mayor Alan Arakawa urged council members not to move the amendments forward.
"I believe the mayor should be given the discretion to find people that he can work with," he said. "As a manager, we have to be allowed to manage."
But some council members said certain positions in the administration were so critical to the county's operations that they needed additional review.
Council Chairman Danny Mateo noted that, with authority over half a billion dollars in revenues and the power to manage and invest the public's money, the finance director was "one of the key players in this county."
"I think it's important for us to understand the capabilities, the competencies of any individual wanting to fill a position of this nature, to be extremely qualified and be able to discuss those financial issues with this body," he said.
"I am not comfortable to not have the ability to review and confirm someone who has such great financial impact on every resident of this county," said Policy Committee Chairman Riki Hokama.
The planning director "is a position of major importance to our community," Mateo added.
He said that giving the council approval power over key appointees was valuable because it allowed for a dialogue about their vision for the county and their plans within their departments.
It "just gives us a better insight," Mateo said.
The managing director is "second in command" of the county, and takes over the mayor's duties when the mayor is away, noted Council Member Mike Victorino.
"This is one I really believe the council should be able to sit down, interview and really get to know," he said.
The managing director would step in to lead the county if the mayor were incapacitated, and the finance director is third in line of succession, he added.
But Council Member Don Couch questioned why that should matter.
"The voters vote the mayor in - it's not subject to council approval," he said. "So where is it that we have to approve the number two and number three position (in line of succession)? That just doesn't make any sense."
He agreed with colleagues who thought the council should let the mayor choose his own management team.
"I really think we should be out of that," he said. "That's their kuleana, and if they screw up, the voters can kick them out."
Baisa wondered if requiring council review for administration appointments "blurs the line between the separation of powers."
Council Member Mike White expressed concern that giving the council veto power could make it difficult to recruit for the positions, especially when a nominee has to leave another job before they can accept.
He said the mayor should be allowed to appoint people he could trust and knew he could work with.
"The closer you get to the top, the more that selection process should be something he can feel secure in," he said.
Several council members said they did not believe that the council should have complete approval powers, but that they would support some amount of review.
Victorino said the council should approve the managing director, but he added it was less important to have a say in the selection of a planning director.
Mateo said the review of the finance director was critical, but he had concerns about interfering with the mayor's choice for managing director.
"It's always been my belief that the managing director and the mayor really should be in sync," he said.
And Hokama said that for some positions, it might be enough for the council simply to have a chance to meet and interview whoever the mayor chooses.
"Instead of advise and consent, maybe we can just advise," he said.
The council deferred action on the measures as well as other proposed charter amendments until a later date.
* Ilima Loomis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.