Current council makeup not conducive to county manager type of governance
Maui County would be well served by a county manager system of governance, but it is unlikely given the current culture of the County Council majority that a well-informed professionally qualified individual would even consider applying.
In 2016, the council formed a Temporary Investigative Committee (TIG) to study a variety of structures with the viability of changing the operations of county government including professional county manager. As vice chair of that committee, I was supportive of the county manager concept that would provide stability in department directors and day-to-day management of what is now a billion-dollar-a-year operation.
Many citizens testified both in favor and against the proposal. In the end, the TIG recommended that this question be put on the ballot:
“Shall the Charter be amended to establish a revised structure of governance for the County of Maui wherein: A Managing Director appointed by the County Council shall be responsible for the County’s daily operations, the appointment and removal of department heads, and the implementation of County policy; and an elected Mayor shall be responsible for representing the County in intergovernmental affairs, with the authority to approve or veto bills, and nominate board and commission members?”
By a very close vote, the council opted not to proceed.
Now the county manager issue is once again before the council with hearings beginning at the committee level.
While I continue to support the concept of professional county manager and putting it on the ballot for the voters to weigh in, I do not believe that the timing is right for implementation. Here’s why.
In January, a newly constituted council went through the confirmation process for Mayor Michael Victorino’s director nominees. This was the first time that those hearings were held after passage of a ballot initiative requiring council confirmation of all director positions.
It was hearing after hearing of character assassination of longtime county employees. The council majority, ineptly named the ‘Ohana Coalition, accused, maligned and humiliated many of the nominees, often not allowing rebuttal. Without exception, but well scripted — yes, actually reading from prepared statements — before the hearing began, they seemed to relish the disrespect they heaped on nominees. It was, in a word, bullying. Inexperienced new council members, just a few weeks in office, (Tamara Paltin, Shane Sinenci, Keani Rawlins-Fernandez and Tasha Kama) were led and encouraged by Council Chairwoman Kelly King. King made no attempt to control the hearings when pleas for decency and ethical behavior were made. Decorum was chased out of the Council Chambers, with the chairwoman the chief enabler.
If the majority chose not to support a director nominee, a statesmanlike no vote would have achieved the same result. Instead, they each exercised their mean streaks, ad nauseum. No aloha here.
Now, 11 months after those atrocious hearings, Chairwoman King is proposing that a county manager question be put on the ballot. The voters may support that ballot question. If approved, and eventually the request goes out for applicants, will any well-qualified county manager candidate be willing to step forward subjecting themselves to what could be another inquisition?
The people of Maui County deserve the best possible county government. In order to do that, we must attract well-qualified managers for consideration. A smart applicant, before applying for the position, will certainly learn about the community as well as the council who will confirm. What person would be willing to go through hearings like the shameful confirmation hearings of January?
The International City/County Management Association is an organization of professional managers. They made an excellent presentation to the TIG. It would be a likely source for the county when looking for applicants. They would be a likely resource for information about Maui County, including red flags.
The county manager position is too important to start out with a limited field. We deserve the best of applicants who have outstanding qualifications and match with our best interests. We should not expect that qualified candidates will overlook the shameful behavior of this council in the past and subject themselves to that unfair process in the future. That ghost will hang around until this council makeup or their behavior changes. Until then, no implementation.
* Madge Schaefer has been active in a number of county issues and was vice chair of the Temporary Investigative Committee. She lives in Kihei.