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Public hearing call puts brakes on council

King, Cochran and Atay want testimony on committee structure

Mike White

The Maui County Council may have ironed out its main leadership issues Monday, but with a public hearing on standing committees still to come, the important work of vetting new bills cannot begin yet.

“Right now, the council is pretty well shut down . . . without any committees,” council Vice Chairman Bob Carroll said Tuesday.

On Monday, after many complaints from testifiers who thought the committees were too small and had been skewed in favor of the council “majority,” Council Members Kelly King, Elle Cochran and Alika Atay called for a public hearing on the committees.

The date for the hearing has yet to be determined, but Council Chairman Mike White said during Monday’s meeting that the first available dates were Jan. 16 or 17.

Until a hearing happens, “there’s nowhere to refer any (bills) to,” Cochran said Wednesday. “It’s sort of at a standstill at this point until our next council meeting.”

Bob Carroll

Still, members have no shortage of work. They are still able to draft legislation, meet with community groups and state legislators, and research issues in preparation for committee meetings.

Cochran said she’s working on items from last term, and Carroll said he’s going through applications related to land use, the committee he chaired last term.

“There’s never been a day when there wasn’t a lot to do,” Carroll said. “I’m using my time to make sure that when it is done I’m totally caught up and ready to proceed.”

Council committees are vital. They’re where the bills are picked apart and smoothed out before they can head to a final council vote. And the chairperson of each committee is just as important. When bills get sent to committees, they are placed on a “master agenda,” and the chairperson decides what items take priority, Council Member Don Guzman explained. If the item is never heard in committee, “it will auto file and go away” at the end of the term.

“Chairs are so important because they have the discretion to either hold that legislation or push it through,” Guzman said.

Elle Cochran

It’s why council members were upset that they weren’t consulted over the topics and membership of each committee. When the list was first published on the agenda, some committees only had five members. White explained this was to take a load off of members.

“I have to take full responsibility for the reduction to five,” White said. “I did so because we often have challenges with quorum. . . . It was not to reduce the participation but rather to increase the amount of time that you have to work on legislation.”

Still, Guzman said the groupings seemed more “politically based than logically based.”

During Monday’s meeting, more members were added to each committee so there are no longer five-member groups. The current proposal includes four committees with nine voting members and four committees with seven voting members.

The Budget and Finance Committee would be chaired by Council Member Riki Hokama; Housing, Human Services and Transportation Committee by Stacy Crivello; Infrastructure and the Environmental Management Committee by Cochran; Land Use Committee by Bob Carroll; Parks, Recreation, Energy and Legal Affairs Committee by Guzman; Planning Committee by King; Policy, Economic Development and Agriculture Committee by Yuki Lei Sugimura; and Water Resources Committee by Atay.

Don Guzman

But the issue wasn’t just about committee size, King said during the meeting.

“I don’t think that everybody heard the public in totality,” King said. “Sure they said they wanted more people on here, but there were also a lot of comments about the makeup of these committees and how they don’t make sense. Parks, Recreation, Energy and Legal Affairs? Some of these configurations need to be looked at.”

But some members were concerned this would put important council business on hold. Hokama asked for the Budget and Finance Committee to be approved so the committee could start handling grants, settlements and claims and prepare for the mayor’s budget in March. Carroll said there were applications the Land Use Committee needed to start reviewing.

King, however, said there were changes made to the duties of these committees that required an explanation.

“The intent of this is to slow us down and not pass something that some of us might regret,” she said. “I understand that there’s a timeline, but unfortunately for those of us who have not been privy to this document before it went public . . . it appears that some of the teeth has been taken out of some of the committees and put into others.”

Cochran and King said they had proposals of their own that they were working on.

“I believe if a member wants to be on all committees, then why not?” Cochran said. “Yeah, it’s a lot of work, but you know what? It’s totally doable.”

Director Debate

Council members also had considerable debate over who would serve as the new director of Council Services. Some testifiers believed that White had unfairly terminated David Raatz, the previous director, and that former Budget Director Sandy Baz had not gone through the proper channels to get the job.

In a Dec. 16 memo to council members, White recommended Baz, who had worked extensively with council members as Mayor Alan Arakawa’s budget director.

“I know him to be one of the most ethical individuals in the county administration,” White said Monday. “It does say in the (Office of Council Services procedural) manual that we go through this process of testing and interviews and so forth, but it doesn’t preclude us from making a decision another way. I think in this case it’s not necessary to go through the process with someone who we had spent hours and hours and hours watching, listening to, reacting to.”

Baz was the deputy director of Maui Economic Opportunity from 2001 to 2005. After Gladys Baisa retired from the top post at MEO, Baz was promoted to executive director, a position he held until he was appointed county budget director in January 2011. When he left, MEO had nearly 300 employees and a $22 million budget, Baz said Wednesday.

Council members said they liked Baz but that “it would be hypocritical of us to  . . . just hire somebody because we know him,” King said. Guzman made a motion to have Raatz returned to his position.

Because the hiring, dismissal or discipline of employees are a private matter, members went into executive session for about an hour. When they returned to open session, they voted 7-2 against returning Raatz to his position, with Cochran and Guzman voting in favor of Raatz. The council then voted unanimously to approve Baz.

A representative from White’s office said Wednesday that “the bottom line was that no one was fired.” Council staff are at-will employees whose positions expire at the end of each council term. According to council rules, the chairperson’s job is to appoint all council employees with council approval. The representative said there was a memo sent out about Baz and that members had a chance to request an interview with him. Baz said Wednesday that he met with all new and returning members, except for Guzman, who was traveling.

After starting the term with a heated, 13¢-hour meeting, council members said they were hopeful the council would pull together and get to work on the issues.

“We’re all grown and mature adults, and we’re going to work things out for the benefit of this community,” Cochran said. “As hard as that (meeting) was, I’m excited.”

* Colleen Uechi can be reached at cuechi@mauinews.com.

THE PROPOSED COMMITTEES

Under the current proposal, the County Council would have four committees with nine members and four committees with seven members. Here are the proposed lists:

* Budget and Finance

Riki Hokama, chairman

Mike White, vice chairman

Alika Atay

Robert Carroll

Elle Cochran

Stacy Crivello

Don Guzman

Kelly King

Yuki Lei Sugimura

* Housing, Human Services and Transportation

Stacy Crivello, chairwoman

Robert Carroll, vice chairman

Alika Atay

Don Guzman

Riki Hokama

Kelly King

Mike White

* Infrastructure and Environmental Management

Elle Cochran, chairwoman

Don Guzman, vice chairman

Alika Atay

Robert Carroll

Riki Hokama

Yuki Lei Sugimura

Mike White

* Land Use

Robert Carroll, chairman

Riki Hokama, vice chairman

Alika Atay

Elle Cochran

Stacy Crivello

Don Guzman

Kelly King

Yuki Lei Sugimura

Mike White

* Parks, Recreation, Energy and Legal Affairs

Don Guzman, chairman

Kelly King, vice chairwoman

Alika Atay

Robert Carroll

Stacy Crivello

Elle Cochran

Riki Hokama

Yuki Lei Sugimura

Mike White

* Planning

Kelly King, chairwoman

Yuki Lei Sugimura, vice chairwoman

Elle Cochran

Stacy Crivello

Riki Hokama

Don Guzman

Mike White

* Policy, Economic Development and Agriculture

Yuki Lei Sugimura, chairwoman

Stacy Crivello, vice chairwoman

Alika Atay

Robert Carroll

Elle Cochran

Don Guzman

Riki Hokama

Kelly King

Mike White

* Water Resources

Alika Atay, chairman

Elle Cochran, vice chairwoman

Robert Carroll

Stacy Crivello

Kelly King

Yuki Lei Sugimura

Mike White