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Near ban on plastic disposable utensils OK’d

Measure, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2022, sent to mayor for signature

The Maui County Council gave unanimous final approval Friday to a bill that bans nearly all sales and use of plastic disposable food ware in Maui County.

The measure, which would take effect Jan. 1, 2022, heads to Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino’s desk for approval.

In another watched item in Friday’s meeting, the council deferred action on a measure to place a county manager charter amendment on the November ballot.

With the passage of the plastics bill, food providers will be prohibited from selling, using and providing plastic disposable food ware, including forks, knives, spoons, straws, coffee stirrers, cocktail picks and chopsticks. Those items cannot be used at county facilities or county-sponsored or -permitted events or concessions.

Food providers are allowed to offer nonplastic alternative utensils but only upon request or approval of the customer.

Exceptions include plastic used for raw or butchered meats, poultry, seafood, unprepared produce or eggs. Plastic straws may be used by people with disabilities and at hospitals, nursing homes and other health care facilities and settings.

In usual situations, a food provider may seek an exemption from the county if there is no reasonable and affordable alternative.

Prepackaged foods also are exempted.

On the county manager item, which was up for second and final reading, Deputy Corporation Counsel Richelle Thomson raised issues with the measure that led council members to grudgingly defer the matter.

“I think we need to be more specific and clear on a ballot question . . . so people know what they’re voting on,” she said.

Her position raised the ire of several council members who believed the item had been reviewed by Corporation Counsel during the committee process and through the first reading of the measure.

“I’m having a hard time understanding the review process of not only this bill, but other bills because this is something that really came out of left field,” said Council Member Mike Molina, a supporter of the measure. “Here we are in second reading, there were two prior committee meetings on this where this matter was assumed to have been vetted, not only by the council, but by Corporation Counsel. We have the Corporation Counsel and deputy signing off on it and now we have another deputy disagreeing.

“This is just unbelievable that we’re here now.”

Molina said that this was “a very, very difficult decision that has divided the community, but I’m extremely, extremely disappointed we’re at this juncture.”

“Every attorney that reads a document will have things that stand out to them,” Thomson said. “I think from the standpoint of really having to use it as a living document, you want to make sure that it’s clear.”

When asked by council Chairwoman Alice Lee if the issues could be worked out in one meeting, Thomson said, “we may have to take another meeting beyond that.”

Under the proposal, the mayor would serve as CEO of the county, while the managing director would act as a chief operating officer independent of the mayor’s term. Supporters have said this would create continuity and take the politics out of daily operations; opponents have said it places too much power in the hands of an unelected official.

The idea has evolved since it was discussed by the 2011-12 Charter Commission, recommended by a 2015-16 Special Committee on County Governance, and fell short of the ballot in 2016 and 2018.

The latest charter amendment, proposed by Council Member Kelly King, would replace the current Department of Management with an Office of the Managing Director.

The managing director would be hired through a recruitment and selection process involving the mayor, council chairperson and a three-member citizen group, with the mayor getting to make the final selection and the council in charge of approving the contract. The managing director would need five years of experience in an administrative capacity and would be tasked with appointment and removal of most department heads, creation and execution of the annual budget, evaluation of department performance and other management tasks.

Meanwhile, the mayor would supervise the managing director. He or she would still represent the county in intergovernmental affairs and have the authority to approve or veto bills, nominate board and commission members and enforce county laws.

* Robert Collias can be reached at rcollias@mauinews.com. Lee Imada can be reached at leeimada@mauinews.com.

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