Proposals to limit terms, create new departments on tap
6 charter changes up for first reading Friday in council
Six proposals that would limit terms for the mayor and council members, create departments for housing and agriculture and make other changes to county government will be considered by the Maui County Council on Friday.
After day-long deliberations on June 23 and 30, the council’s Governance, Ethics and Transparency Committee recommended passage of the six proposed charter amendments, which will be up for first reading at the council’s meeting at 9 a.m. Friday, Council Member Mike Molina announced.
“These proposals are intended to allow residents of Lanai, Maui and Molokai to decide on Nov. 3 if they want to change the Maui County Charter, which is our local government’s constitution,” Molina, who chairs the committee, said in a news release Tuesday. “I commend my colleagues for so carefully vetting numerous proposals and settling on the charter amendments that appear most important this year.”
The charter amendments are proposing to:
• Establish stricter term limits for council members by limiting the number of terms a person may serve as a council member to five two-year terms.
• Establish standards for interpreting and complying with the charter, including by requiring a viable judicial action to be filed within 30 days to seek clarity when a conflict in the interpretation of the charter is identified.
• Require the Department of Housing and Human Concerns be divided to form two separate departments, a Department of Housing and a Department of Human Concerns.
• Establish stricter term limits for the mayor by limiting the number of terms a person may serve as mayor to two full four-year terms.
• Establish a Department of Agriculture to develop a sustainable regional agricultural system for Maui County.
• Authorize the council to appoint nine members and the mayor to appoint two members of the 11-member Charter Commission.
The commission will convene by March 1, 2021, to review the charter and consider if additional amendments are warranted for the 2022 general election, according to the news release.
Some of this year’s proposed charter amendments are the result of a dispute between the administration and the council last year over the mayor’s power to reappoint council-rejected directors. Council members said at the time that the charter may need to be clarified.
If the proposal to limit terms for council members passed and was later approved by voters, it would not count previous terms against council members, which would allow Molina and council Chairwoman Alice Lee to continue serving if reelected. Molina, who is facing two challengers to his seat, already served five terms from 2001 to 2010 before being reelected in 2018. Lee, who is running unopposed, also served five terms from 1989 to 1998 before being reelected in 2018.
“It would be like as if you never had any prior service. The playing field would be level for everybody,” Molina said Tuesday, adding that excluding reelected council members from office if the amendment were approved would be like “changing the rules in the middle of the game.”
“Some said it’s a backdoor way of keeping certain individuals out of office,” Molina said. “To me, it should be the decision of the people and not decisions by people in office to keep certain folks out of office.”
Lee, meanwhile, also thought it would be unfair to retroactively apply the limits, and said the consensus among council members was to not affect people in the middle of their terms.
However, cleaning the slate for everybody could essentially open the door to some serving more than five consecutive terms, which is what the proposal is designed to avoid. In addition to Lee and Molina, other council members have served five consecutive terms, stepped down for a time and returned for five more terms, including outgoing Council Member Riki Hokama. Lee, however, sees that as more the exception than the rule.
“Ten years is a long time to be on the council, and really, like I said, I don’t see where there would be a lot of people who would be interested in running that way,” said Lee, who hadn’t initially planned a second shot at the council and said she is “really not interested in running another 10 years.”
“I’d be using a cane and a walker,” joked Lee, who is in her 70s.
The amendments that pass first reading Friday will be up for second and final reading on July 24. A supermajority of six council members in favor is required at each reading.
If the amendments pass on second reading, they will be placed on November’s general election ballot. Two amendments have already made it to the ballot, including one to extend the affordable housing fund and another to reorganize the executive branch to hire a professional managing director.
Molina’s committee also recommended rejection of several other proposals, including:
• Requiring the council to meet at least 21 times annually, rather than bimonthly.
• Increasing council terms to four years.
• Authorizing the council to retain and terminate special counsel by a simple-majority vote.
• Authorizing the council to appoint and remove a director of Council Services and a supervising legislative attorney and authorize the director of Council Services to appoint and remove other necessary staff in the Office of Council Services.
Friday’s meeting will be televised on Akaku Channel 53 and livestreamed on mauicounty.legistar.com. For more information, visit mauicounty.us/agendas.
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.