WAILUKU - Maui County voters could face two nearly identical charter amendment questions on the Nov. 6 general election ballot - both dealing with extending County Council members' terms from the current two years to four years.
That possibility surfaced Wednesday when the County Council's Policy Committee voted 6-2, with Council Members Mike White and Don Couch dissenting, to recommend placing an alternative ballot question clarifying that full terms would be only complete four-year terms. The proposed charter amendment still needs to pass a vote by the full council.
Currently, council members serve two-year terms, with a limit of five consecutive terms or 10 years.
The Charter Commission's version of the amendment calls for extending council terms from two to four years, with a provision to stagger council members' terms.
If approved by voters in November, the five council members receiving the highest number of votes in the 2014 election would be elected to serve four-year terms, with a maximum of three terms or 12 years. The remaining four members - those with the lowest vote totals - would be elected to an initial term of only two years, with following terms of four years each, for a maximum of 10 years.
Because the council's version of the charter amendment does not count the initial two-year term as a full term, a council member elected to an initial two-year term also could serve three additional four-year terms, for a maximum of 14 years in office.
The reasons Charter Commission members are proposing longer four-year terms include giving council members more time and seasoning in office and not subjecting them to re-election every two years. A proposal before the Charter Commission to give council members a "maximum term, never to return" to office failed by a 6-5 vote in February.
On Wednesday, White said that he could not support the council's proposed charter amendment, not counting the initial two-year term as a full term, because it could be perceived as being self-serving.
"It's going to look as though we're simply taking care of ourselves," he said.
Couch said that he agreed with White. Other council members did not discuss their support for the amendment during the Policy Committee meeting. Those council members were Danny Mateo, Riki Hokama, Gladys Baisa, Bob Carroll, Elle Cochran and Joe Pontanilla. Council Member Mike Victorino was absent from the meeting and was excused.
When asked for comment Friday, Charter Commission Chairman Josh Stone said that it was the council's prerogative to put forward its own charter amendments.
But, "in my own personal opinion, speaking as an individual member of the community, I think the fact that the Policy Committee's proposal as presently stated could theoretically allow a council member to serve up to 14 years straight is excessive," Stone said.
"From our extensive outreach to the community, one of the concerns in the public was councilors making a lifetime career on the council, which is why the intent of our proposal was to keep the possible duration of multiple terms realistic," he said.
The possibility of two nearly identical charter amendments appearing on the ballot raised the question: What if both received more "yes" than "no" votes?
County Clerk Jeffrey Kuwada said Friday that if both alternative propositions on the same subject receive more "yes" votes, the one with the greater number of "yes" votes would be approved.
During Friday's regular meeting, council members unanimously approved a separate proposed charter amendment. This one covers the vacancy of offices of council members and clarifies that "the remainder of the unexpired term served by a council member filling such a vacancy shall not be counted towards the maximum number of consecutive terms the council member may serve."
The amendment does not change the current rules for filling a vacancy in a council office. Currently, if a vacancy occurs with fewer than 15 months remaining in the unexpired term, the council would appoint a person by resolution adopted by a majority of the remaining council members. If the unexpired term is more than 15 months, the vacancy would be filled by a special election.
In other council action Friday, members unanimously approved the appointment of Darren Strand to serve on the Kula Agricultural Park Committee for a term expiring in March 2017.
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.