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Proposal would keep council election as-is

Members pass their version of charter amendments for the November ballot

Voters stand in line to cast their ballots outside the Velma McWayne Santos Community Center in November of 2020. A slate of charter amendments headed for the general election ballot in November includes a proposal to change how council members are elected. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Elections for the Maui County Council — nine members who are chosen by voters across the county — will stay as they are if the council’s version of charter amendments makes it to the ballot in November.

The council voted on Friday to approve its version of 13 charter amendments proposed by a citizens panel that will now have a chance to accept or reject the council’s changes, potentially setting the stage for dueling proposals on the ballot.

“When we do policy like what we’re doing on the charter amendments … you don’t get everything you want,” Council Member Tasha Kama, who holds the Kahului residency seat, said Friday. “I don’t think any of us got everything that we want. But I think most of us were able to live with what we said, and we compromised on some things.”

Every 10 years, a group of residents chosen by the council meets to review and update the Maui County Charter. The Charter Commission spends months combing through dozens of potential updates that it eventually sends to the council for final review and approval.

Of the 13 amendments the commission submitted, the council decided to eliminate two:

• Changing council elections from at-large elections to electing three council members from each of three council electoral regions; requiring that one council member reside in each of the following areas: Molokai, Lanai, East Maui, North Kahului, Wailuku and Upcountry; and creating a Reapportionment Commission.

“The current system of at-large voting and at-large representation ensures all Maui County voters can cast votes for all nine council seats and all Maui County residents are represented by all nine members of the council, promoting unity instead of geographic rivalries, on the council and in the community,” the report from the council’s Government Relations, Ethics and Transparency Committee said.

• Requiring the county auditor to assess the fiscal impacts of proposed charter amendments.

The report pointed out that it’s the duty of any entity proposing a charter amendment to fully analyze the fiscal and other impacts of the proposal before it goes to the ballot. Requiring the auditor to analyze ballot questions before an election “would directly involve the county auditor in electoral politics,” the report added.

The council kept the other 11 amendments but proposed some changes. For example, one amendment would add more duties to the powers of the county clerk and prohibit participation in certain political activities. The council allowed employees in the Office of the County Clerk to participate in political activities but restricted the county clerk and deputy from doing so, including giving political contributions for any federal, state or county elective offices.

Another amendment alters the powers of the mayor to appoint and retain administrative department heads. Council members added the requirement that any appointee denied by the council must vacate the office immediately. They also allotted 60 days, instead of 30, to find, appoint and confirm or deny an administrative head, and prohibited the requirement of a letter of resignation from a director as a condition of hiring.

Other charter amendments could bring changes to county departments, including separating the Department of Housing and Human Concerns into two departments to help focus more resources on the housing crisis, and creating a Department of ‘Oiwi Resources to support the county’s stewardship of Native Hawaiian cultural resources.

Council members said there was still work to do before the final proposals head for the ballot in November.

“Our job isn’t over,” Council Member Gabe Johnson, who holds the Lanai residency seat, said as the council prepared to vote on the amendments Friday. “I listened to testifiers, and what they had said is, this is some heavy stuff. We really need to go out there and educate our electorate on these particular issues.”

According to the county, the Charter Commission has 30 days to either accept or reject the council’s alternatives. Rejected proposals will still appear on the ballot unless the council decides to recall them.

If competing County Council and Charter Commission amendments appear on the ballot and both earn more than 50 percent of the vote (votes are cast separately on each amendment), then whichever receives the most “yes” votes will be the winning proposal.

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

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