WAILUKU - A resolution proposing an amendment to the Maui County Charter that would greatly limit the powers of the Cost of Government Commission and place the panel under the control of the county auditor was voted down by the Maui County Council on Tuesday.
On second reading, council members, who may have been swayed by public testimony Tuesday, voted 8-0 to forego placing the resolution on the general election ballot. Instead, the measure was referred back to committee for further discussion. Council Member Riki Hokama was absent and excused.
On June 20, the council approved the measure on first reading, 7-1. Council Vice Chairman Robert Carroll was the lone nay vote, saying the measure should be sent back to committee for further clarifications.
"I feel we need more discussion on this before we put it on the ballot," said Council Member Stacy Crivello, who voted no this time.
She viewed the job of the county auditor and the role of the Cost of Government Commission, a panel consisting of members of the public, as "separate."
Council Member Elle Cochran referred to testimony she heard Tuesday, in which a testifier said that County Auditor Lance Taguchi had not been consulted about the resolution. This apparently concerned Cochran, who voted "no."
Other council members expressed some reservations about placing the item on the Nov. 4 ballot but appeared to speak in support of the resolution. But when Chairwoman Gladys Baisa called for the vote, no one supported the measure.
The Cost of Government Commission helps the county promote economy, efficiency and improved service to the public by reviewing county operations and policies and making recommendations to improve them. The panel also submits an annual report of its findings and recommendations to the mayor and council, according to the Maui County website.
During the last council meeting, Hokama, chairman of the council Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee, through which the bill passed, said that the commission appointed by the mayor's administration with the approval of the council is not wholly independent. Hokama also wrote in a report that the commission may be unnecessary now that the Office of the County Auditor duties have been established.
While the original proposal had recommended that the commission be abolished, committee members decided instead to clarify the duties of the panel so that it acts "only upon the request of the county auditor, to whom it is advisory," according to county filings.
Ron Kawahara, a former Cost of Government Commission member, told council members that some may think that the commission is not needed with the appointment of a county auditor but that is far from the truth. He said that the panel is a way for citizens to give input. While citizen input may not be as effective at other levels of government, "at the county level we can make a difference," he said.
He noted that the police and fire departments each have a commission overseeing both public safety agencies.
"You need that oversight," Kawahara added.
Contrary to what some may believe, the Cost of Government Commission would not be trying to control the county auditor but to work together, he said. Kawahara said at least two other state counties have both a Cost of Government Commission and a county auditor.
Commission Chairwoman Tina Gomes urged council members to reverse their initial vote. "Please reconsider your position taken at the first reading," she said.
Gomes, who also testified at the previous council meeting on the amendment, said that she spoke with Taguchi, who said that he had not been consulted about the resolution and that he did not know what the impact of the amendment would be.
While the original resolution would have abolished the commission, the current resolution is not much better because it would strip the powers of the commission altogether, she said.
John Buck, an executive assistant to Mayor Alan Arakawa, said that the mayor wanted the matter referred back to committee, noting that there are questions and concerns. Some of those issues included whether the county auditor would be able to conduct all of the audits that the commission currently handles.
Cost of Government Commission Member Dale Thompson questioned the rush to clarify the duties of the commission. He added that unlike the county auditor, the commission is not paid by the county.
"We are citizens. I think it holds great merit," he said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.