×

Council veterans allowed to run

Deputy county clerk deems ‘consecutive’ as deciding term in law

Deputy Maui County Clerk Josiah Nishita focused on “consecutive” as a key word in deciding whether a charter provision prohibiting council members from serving more than five consecutive terms barred three candidates from running for County Council offices this year.

In a ruling Friday that was released Saturday, Nishita said the plain language of the law and the legislative intent of the 1991-92 Charter Commission made it clear that a charter amendment adopted by voters in 1992 was meant to limit consecutive terms by council members and not “as a limit to the total amount of terms a council member may serve.”

Therefore, he rejected an objection filed Tuesday by Haiku resident Sean Lester seeking to disqualify the candidacies of Council Member Riki Hokama and former Council Members Mike Molina and Alice Lee. Each served five consecutive five-year terms at various times. And, now they are seeking council offices again — in Hokama’s case a second fifth consecutive two-year term.

On Saturday evening, Lester said he decided not to appeal Nishita’s decision to 2nd Circuit Court, but to pursue a charter amendment on term limits instead.

He emphasized that his point in challenging the candidates was about clarifying term limits. “It’s not personal,” he said, adding that he has worked with them in the past and, in Molina’s case, supported his candidacy early on.

Lester suggested voters consider a charter amendment to limit council terms to no more than 10 years and mayoral terms to no more than eight.

Otherwise, career politicians would be able to continue to recycle through county government and hinder “fresh faces” from providing a “more responsive government with new ideas,” he said.

Lester’s complaint hinged on a sentence in the charter that reads: “No member of the County Council shall serve more than five consecutive full terms of office.” (The amendment regarding council term limits was approved by voters on Nov. 3, 1992, not six years later as incorrectly reported previously in The Maui News.)

In his ruling, Nishita said the word “consecutive” needs to be “taken into account” when interpreting the key sentence.

“By removing that word from the statute, a limit would be placed on the total number of terms a council member could serve to five, regardless of when they were served, and whether they were served consecutively or not,” he said. “Plain reading of the statutory language would indicate that a limit was placed on the amount of ‘consecutive’ terms a council member could serve, but not on the total number of terms a council member could serve.”

Adopting Lester’s interpretation of “consecutive terms” would raise the possibility of council members choosing not to seek a fifth consecutive term so they could serve four consecutive terms with a two-year break in between indefinitely, since they would never meet the fifth-term threshold, Nishita pointed out.

“Mr. Lester’s interpretation of the statutory language would only place term limits on council members who were re-elected for a fifth consecutive term, but would not place term limits on any other council member, regardless of how many terms they served as long as it didn’t exceed five consecutive terms,” he said. “Plain reading of the statutory language and an understanding of the impacts of the interpretation of the language do not support the objections provided by Mr. Lester.”

Nishita also looked at the legislative intent and the report of the 1991-92 Charter Commission. It said that, under the recommended change for term limits, “a council member would be prohibited from running for a council seat after five consecutive terms but could run again after the lapse of at least one term.”

The same sentence was included in an advertisement explaining the charter amendment and published in The Maui News in 1992.

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.