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New managing director charter proposal set for November ballot

County Council OKs putting governance change to voters

Maui County Council Chambers is pictured early this year. The Maui News / KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

The Maui County Council voted Friday to place a charter amendment on the general election ballot that establishes a managing director and changes governance in the county.

The managing director would serve as the county’s chief operating officer and be hired by the council and mayor through a recruitment and selection process, involving the mayor, council chairperson and a three-member citizen group, according to a resolution introduced by Council Member Kelly King.

Currently, the managing director, who is a member of mayor’s Cabinet, is appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council.

The vote is the culmination of years of lobbying by community members seeking to have a professional manager running the county and to take politics out of the process. Critics of the charter amendment worried about the change in the balance of power between the council and the mayor with the mayor relinquishing some responsibilities.

Those voting in favor of placing the amendment on the ballot were King, Council Chairwoman Alice Lee, Keani Rawlins-Fernandez, Shane Sinenci, Tamara Paltin and Mike Molina.

Those against were Riki Hokama, Yuki Lei Sugimura and Tasha Kama.

Hokama said he was not opposed to putting the question on the ballot but preferred that the next Charter Commission, to be empaneled next year, take up the issue in the context of changes to the entire charter. This could ensure that the new office would have no conflicts and maintain the clear separation of the executive and legislative branches.

But Lee said she still sees “a balance of power” with the proposed change and clear executive and legislative branches. If there was any confusion, she said she would not support the proposal.

Under the proposed amendment, the managing director would report to the mayor, who will serve as the county’s chief executive, according to the resolution.

The managing director would need specific qualifications, such as five years experience in an administrative capacity in the public or private sectors. The terms of employment would be established by contract.

The managing director would in consultation with the mayor prepare and submit an annual operating and capital budget to the council, which would have final say over the budget.

Currently, the mayor’s budget office staff helps create the administration’s proposal for council review. The mayor does have veto power over the budget.

The managing director also would supervise the administrative functions of most departments and agencies and appoint directors in consultation with the mayor and council.

If the amendment is approved by voters, it would go into effect in January 2022 at the end of current Mayor Michael Victorino’s first four-year term.

In other council matters, members voted on first reading to allow the county to accept $10 million more in federal coronavirus-related grant funding. The council waived its rules and chose not to refer the item to committee for deliberations. A second reading is needed.

Grant funds include $1.1 million from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for rental housing assistance for low and moderate income individuals and families and $7.8 million from the state Department of Transportation.

In a related development, Victorino said Friday night that the county could receive $66.6 million in COVID-19 response funding from the federal CARES Act, He said he was looking forward to the state Legislature, which will be reconvening Monday to deal with budget issues, to discuss allocations to the counties from the $1.3 billion in CARES Act funding for the state.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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