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Pandemic not time to be making big changes to charter

OUR COUNTY

Maui County voters will get their mail-in 2020 general election ballots in a couple of weeks. Voters have time now to evaluate candidates and learn about the seven Maui County Charter amendments proposed by the Maui County Council.

I urge everyone to study these proposals carefully, which can be reviewed at https://www.mauicounty.gov/2395/Proposed-Charter-Amendments-2020.

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, many of you have not had an opportunity to weigh in on these important measures or had the time to stay up-to-date on all of the various iterations these proposals have gone through.

 The County Charter is essentially our county’s constitution. It is the foundation upon which our county is built, and determines how our county is positioned for a successful future. It is imperative that you take the time to learn about these measures, critically think through the ramifications of each proposal, and make informed decisions for Maui County’s future. As we are enduring a worldwide pandemic, my hope was that our focus would remain on our county’s immediate and future needs to successfully thrive in a post-pandemic world.

Consider this for example, a proposal to create a new Department of Agriculture will likely cost millions in taxpayer dollars to establish and run. We all understand the importance of local farmers. They are extremely vital to our success as a community. Weather, insects, droughts and other factors that are outside farmers’ control contribute to their ability to succeed or fail. In addition, they have federal and state regulators and requirements to report to and comply with. Examples of questions you should ask yourself may include: Will additional regulatory agencies and bureaucratic processes help a farmer plant more crops?  Will raising taxes to fund the creation of a new department put more locally raised food on my table?

We all want to make farming easier, not more difficult. We want to help diversify our economy with vibrant agricultural enterprises, but is creating another bureaucratic layer the way to do it?

My administration has continued to support agriculture by directly funding grants that help small farmers across the county through a fair application process. The Maui County Farm Bureau recently released the results of a member poll, and 84 percent of farmers rejected the proposed county Department of Agriculture.

Farm Bureau President Teena Rasmussen said: “The farmers have made a strong statement that they do not believe a new county department is necessary, and that this is a terrible time to expand government when so many of our residents are jobless and county revenues are plummeting.”

During the pandemic, we have been focused on keeping our families and community safe and healthy. I would have preferred that the Charter Commission would have thoroughly vetted these proposals. That would have allowed for much more public input and dialogue and allow our community to shape the options we are presented with.

I did not recommend that the council push to get these charter amendments before voters this year — while there’s plenty of fiscal uncertainty and under the backdrop of a pandemic. We all need to have time to reflect not only on the merits of the proposals themselves, but on the future ramifications of these decisions, which are not easily undone.

One of the proposed amendments would make significant changes to our county. This would reorganize the executive branch by establishing an Office of the Managing Director and eliminate the current Department of Management.  Currently, voters are able to hold elected officials accountable for their decisions. If they do not agree with the direction of the county, they may make that known in their vote. Taking responsibilities and authorities from an elected individual and placing them with an appointed individual, removes the ability to directly hold leaders accountable.

Such a far-reaching proposal deserves more time for public discussion, debate and scrutiny than a few committee and council meetings held while the public has been distracted by COVID-19. I urge you to carefully review the proposal, as the question framed on the ballot itself, does not adequately tell the full story.

Remember it’s important to educate yourself and vote! Otherwise, you’re giving others the power to say who will govern us and how we’ll be governed.

* “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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