Voters to decide commission criteria

Kaua’i County attorney Hartwell H.K. Blake heartily endorses a “yes” vote on a

County Charter amendment question on next month’s general election

ballot.

The question is, “Shall the requirement that members of the

Planning Commission have knowledge of environmental, business and labor

concerns be deleted?”

A charter amendment passed by voters in 1992

mandated that at least two of the seven commission members have education,

training, an occupation or experience in one of the following areas: Organized

labor, business and environmental concerns.

“We have always questioned the

viability of that provision, because it identifies specific groups,” Blake

said. Other groups, such as senior citizens, animal lovers, Hawaiian

sovereignty and Hawaiian rights advocates, are excluded, he said.

County

Councilman Ron Kouchi agrees. For example, he said, over the years questions

arose about what qualifications environmentalists do or should have that make

them environmentalists and therefore eligible for those two positions on the

commission.

“Over the years, it’s been such a source of contention,” Kouchi

said of the 1992 charter amendment, “that we thought this (new proposal) would

help clarify things a lot better.”

The County Council proposed the 1992 and

2000 charter amendments. That body also confirms (or rejects) mayoral

appointments to the commission, so had to interview nominees to determine

whether they possessed the charter-mandated qualifications, Kouchi said.

Mayor Maryanne Kusaka said it is sometimes difficult to find people

willing to volunteer to serve on the omission. The 1992 charter amendment

didn’t necessarily make it tougher to find nominees to fit into those three

specific categories, but it did make it harder “to justify that they are in

fact belonging to that category,” she said.

“I mean, you know, I’m an

environmentalist, you’re an environmentalist. Nobody likes to hurt the

environment,” Kusaka said.

But once she nominates someone to fill an

environmentalist slot on the commission, people want validation that the

nominee is indeed an environmentalist, she explained.

Potential nominees

from the business sector worry about how their participation will impact their

business, and not everyone wants to be “out there” in the public eye, she

said.

“It’s a very high-profile position, the Planning Commission, and it

is difficult to convince people that they should serve in that capacity,”

especially since nominees know the public may be vocally unhappy with some of

their decisions, Kusaka said.

“Today’s public is very aggressive and vocal,

and sometimes they can be very hurtful. And that’s no way to treat people who

are trying to serve, no matter what their opinions are,” Kusaka said. “I just

think it’s a lack of respect, and it doesn’t role-model what a community should

represent.”

Kouchi explained that the late Jimmy Tehada, then a member of

the council and a former Planning Commission member, felt in 1992 that

then-mayor JoAnn Yukimura’s nominees to the commission didn’t represent enough

of a cross-section of the community.

The charter amendment, in Tehada’s

mind, ensured more of a community cross-section on the commission, Kouchi

recalled.

“All it’s proved to be is that everybody has their opinion about

who is or isn’t a qualified environmentalist or business person,” he

said.

In charter amendment questions, a simple majority of those voting on

the issue decide its fate. For example, if 10,000 people vote on this charter

amendment, 5,001 votes for or against the measure are needed to approve or

reject it.

That is different from state constitutional amendments, on which

blank votes are added to no votes for tallying purposes. State amendments have

been defeated when the no votes and blanks outnumbered the yes votes.

The

League of Women Voters of Kaua’i helped put together potential reasons why the

Planning Commission requirement should and should not be repealed:

l Among

the reasons the requirement should be deleted, other than the public officials’

concerns, is that removing the requirement that six of seven members know and

be aware of environmental, business, and organized labor concerns will allow

decision-makers to select from a wider, more diverse range of candidates and

interests, but still allow those who represent concerns to be

appointed.

Also, since the council must confirm all mayoral appointees to

the commission, a check-and-balance system is already in place to help ensure

that a variety of interests is represented on the commission.

l Under

reasons the requirement should remain, the League says requiring that six of

seven members know and be aware of these concerns ensures that the particular

interests will always be represented on the commission.

The current

commission members (with term expiration dates in parentheses) and the areas of

their expertise are Gary Baldwin (Dec. 31, 2001) and Ed MacDowell (Dec. 31,

2000), business; Bob Kaden (Dec. 31, 2001) and Gary Heu (Dec. 31, 2002), labor;

and Abby Santos (Dec. 31, 2002) and Ramon de la Pena (Dec. 31, 2001),

environmental.

Dane Oda (Dec. 21, 2000) is the single at-large member not

required by the charter to have knowledge of any of those three

categories.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at

pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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