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Charter Commission needs input on ambitious plan to reshape government

Viewpoint

The Maui County Charter is the county’s equivalent to a constitution. It determines how we elect or appoint our leaders, what type of services will be provided, how the machinery of government produces those services and how we pay for them.

Every decade the County Charter requires that we, as a community, review the charter to make sure that we have the structure of government that Maui County needs, and where necessary, to consider changes to that structure.

For the last 10 months a commission of 11 citizens has been meeting to conduct that review and has now put together a list of 85 potential changes to the current charter. The commission has not yet decided whether it will actually put that full list before the voters for their approval in November. Before that determination is made, the commission needs to hear from the residents of this three-island county to find out how you feel about these proposals. That will happen in the form of two digital (online) public hearings on Jan. 26 and 27.

In normal, nonpandemic times, the commission would go out to the various communities to hold in-person public hearings. Unfortunately, these are not normal times, but thankfully we do have the technology to work around that problem. The meetings will be held on the BlueJeans videoconferencing platform, Wednesday and Thursday, starting at 5 p.m. For instructions on how to participate, go to the Maui County Charter Commission website at www.mauicounty .gov/CharterCommission.

A synopsis of the full list of the proposals is also available at the website. The proposals address nearly every aspect of Maui County government, from how we elect the County Council, to creating new departments for affordable housing development, an independent hearings officer agency, a specialized department to handle ‘oiwi or Native Hawaiian resource issues, an Ethics Department. The proposal list also includes adding 19 new boards, commissions or advisory panels, including six Maui-based planning commissions, and a yet-to-be-determined number of Neighborhood Board-like community panels.

An immediate question about expanding government in this matter is whether it will truly improve the quality of service provided to the community; is it necessary; how much will it cost and whether you, the voters, approve of such an expansion. Some early estimates suggest that, if taken as a whole, this program will add millions of dollars worth of cost to the county budget. So naturally, the Charter Commission wants to hear your thoughts on those questions before it finalizes its program for the ballot. After all, it is your government.

Some of the proposals for consideration are:

• Restructuring council elections to provide for a system comprised of three districts, each of which would have three representatives on the council. The proposed districts are divided as follows: (1) Lanai, West and South Maui; (2) Hana, North Shore and Upcountry; and (3) Central Maui and Molokai. Voters would vote for the three seats in their region.

• Replace the existing Maui Planning Commission with six Community Planning Commissions.

• Create a new Department of Housing Development focused on building affordable housing.

• Making the Board of Water Supply semi-autonomous, by giving the power to manage, control and oversee the Water Department to the Board of Water, including the power to hire and fire the water director.

We thank the Maui News for this opportunity to publish this statement and look forward to a robust response from the community; to the debates on these matters in the weeks to come; and ultimately, to the general election in November that will decide these questions.

* Grant Chun is the acting chairperson of the Maui County Charter Commission, and a former managing director of the County of Maui. He is currently the executive director of Hale Mahaolu.

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