LIHUE — Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura, sometimes, has questions she would like to ask of public speakers at county meetings.
But she can’t. The rules say so.
So, the longtime councilmember recently tried to change that policy.
She proposed councilmembers be allowed to ask clarifying questions of public speakers and give them the opportunity to speak for six minutes instead of five minutes during the final discussion on the matter at hand.
“These are reasonable rules that are supported by the basic premises of a democracy,” Yukimura said. “The first relevant premise of a democracy says that input from the people, i.e. public input, is important in a government that is for the people, of the people, by the people. Our council rules should therefore facilitate public input as long as it doesn’t disrupt the orderly progress of a meeting.”
The motion failed on 5-2 vote, with Councilman Derek Kawakami and Yukimura voting in support of it.
Throughout the past year, Yukimura said people with time restraints have been able to speak at the beginning of meetings and councilors have been allowed to ask questions.
“I’m proposing in this resolution that our council rules reflect how our meetings have been conducted over the past year,” Yukimura said.
Putting it in rules, she said, would make things more transparent.
If public input is important, Yukimura said, so is the ability to ask questions.
“Asking clarifying questions is also based on the importance of good information in making complex and or far-reaching decisions, which we often do on this table,” Yukimura said.
The second relevant premise of a democracy, she said, is that robust and conclusive discussion of issues that doesn’t seclude or suppress dissent is the best way to make decisions.
“In fact, the resolution by which we adopted our rules, on inauguration day, says that the purpose of our rules is to allow our minority to be heard but the decision to be made by the majority,” Yukimura said.
Allowing councilmembers to speak twice on an issue, she said, allows for a robust and open debate. Because councilmembers are elected to the office, she proposed they be permitted to speak for six minutes on a topic, the same amount of time the public is allowed to speak.
The proposed rule changes she said, are important because the council makes decisions critical to Kauai.
Her proposal was met with resistance.
Council Chair Mel Rapozo said that when they became councilmembers, there was misinformation presented to the public, stating that he changed the rules to cut back time councilmembers were allowed to speak on a matter at hand.
“What bothers me, if you guys read the e-mails that we received, it’s the information that was portrayed to the public, and that is what upsets me. Because the fact of the matter is, we didn’t change the rule, we started to enforce the rule,” Rapozo said.
As for the rule preventing councilmembers from asking questions, Rapozo said it was adopted so the public could give public testimony without being interrogated.
“That’s what was happening,” Rapozo said. “People would come up here, if they just happened to be on the opposite side of Councilmember Yukimura, she would drill them and we would get complaints.”
That, Rapozo said, was the reason for that rule.
“To give the public the opportunity to come up here and have no fear, to say what they wanted and not be bothered by councilmembers,” he said.
To see the proposed rule change now, so close to when their terms are up, Rapozo said, makes no sense. He said the council will accommodate anyone who wants to testify.
“I’m going to be honest and say how I feel. To me, I think I run a fair ship, everybody has the same. I don’t cut anybody off, everybody seems to comply,” Rapozo said.
Yukimura said to have it determined by the chair’s decision-making isn’t fair, stating that previously the rule wasn’t enforced, which gave the council the opportunity to have a robust conversation.
Because of the time limit enforcement, relevant information could not be shared, she said.
When he sought support to become council chair, Rapozo said there were two things he said he wanted to change. He said he wouldn’t stop anybody from putting anything on the agenda as long as it was legal, and he would start enforcing the rules because he didn’t like the late night meetings.
“Everything comes down to the rules and the process,” Rapozo said. “That’s what’s been done since I became chair.”