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Charter change proposals being pushed forward unnecessarily

OUR COUNTY

The Charter of the County of Maui sets out the operations of county government in order “to secure the benefits of the best possible form of county government and to exercise the powers and assume the responsibilities of county government to the fullest extent possible.”

Charter changes are typically done through a thorough, publicly open process by the Charter Review Commission. In contrast, council-initiated amendments should be done infrequently to address urgent situations. For example, the council recently adopted a proposed Charter amendment to extend the deadline for the county’s Affordable Housing Fund beyond the current 2021 deadline as currently set in the Charter.

However, the current proposals to establish a County Department of Agriculture, to address interpretations of the Charter and to change the way Charter Commission members are appointed and confirmed are being pushed forward unnecessarily, amid the uncertainty and confusion of the COVID-19 crisis. These proposals still face second-reading passage before being approved for placement on the General Election ballot this year.

The formation of public policy, especially when it comes to something as important as making changes to our foundational document, is best served by an in-depth review by the Charter Commission, with ample public input and participation.

I find it ironic that our current County Council came into office talking about openness, public participation and transparency, hence establishing a Governance, Ethics and Transparency Committee. This is the same committee that has reviewed all the current Charter amendments under the cover of COVID-19.

The process of reviewing the committee’s proposed Charter amendments has been limited to two or three committee meetings, plus consideration by the full council. All this has been done, not with in-person meetings open to the public, but through video teleconference meetings. Where are the values of openness and transparency promoted by the council?

Our Kalana O Maui Building has been open since June 22. Safeguards such as physical distancing are in place.

Nevertheless, most of the County Council’s 8th floor offices and chamber remain locked, and the 7th floor Office of Council Services is still closed to the public. I ask council members to consider allowing the public to provide in-person testimony at all committee and council meetings.

Yes, video conferences are becoming part of the “new normal,” but a meeting on Zoom or BlueJeans is just not the same. Dropped calls and technical glitches are part of the public’s online experience.

The Charter provides for the commission to study and review the operation of county government. The commission analyzes amendment proposals from A to Z, from soup to nuts.

The 2011-12 Maui County Charter Commission provided a template for how the Charter should be reviewed. Its 11 members produced a 41-page report that can be viewed at www.mauicounty.gov/ DocumentCenter/View/81295/County-Clerk-Final-Report?bidId=.

The report details how the commission held regularly scheduled meetings from May through December 2011, reviewed more than 125 different proposals and subsequently voted to put 21 proposals into draft language. Those 21 proposals went out for review at public meetings in June and July 2011 in Pukalani, Kahului, Paia, Hana, Molokai, Lahaina, Lanai and Kihei. A second round of community public meetings were held in December 2011 and January 2012. Commission deliberations continued in February and March 2012. Ultimately, the commission put 11 of the 21 proposals on the General Election ballot for voters in 2012.

The County Council had its opportunity to make any alternative proposals or recommend changes. The commission’s report details each of its proposals, how members considered council-proposed changes and how they reached their final decisions.

This track record shows the advantages of a thorough study by the Charter Review Commission. The public was afforded dozens of open meetings, (including those in communities county-wide) and a publicly available report on its findings and recommendations. This is an open, transparent process that benefits the public.

As elected officials, it’s important to listen to our people as we make important decisions on the future of Maui County.

Aloha.

* “Our County,” a column from Maui County Mayor Michael Victorino, discusses county issues and activities of county government. The column usually appears on the first and third Saturdays of the month.

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