GUEST VIEWPOINT for Saturday — October 29, 2005

• Charter Review Commission need support for its mission

Charter Review Commission need support for its mission

By Walter Lewis

Since early this year the Charter Review Commission has been meeting to fulfill its decennial mission to consider whether changes in the County Charter would improve how the County is governed. This critical function requires the support of our county officials. However, in a manner similar to its actions under the State Sunshine Laws the government seems apprehensive as to recommendations the Commission might make and has failed to date to furnish the services and financing the Commission needs to achieve its objectives. So without the Hoike televising that was promised but has been withheld, the Commission has been meeting without the exposure it requires to bring to public attention the issues that are being considered. And despite ongoing requests the County is not providing funds for services the Commission needs.

Our County Charter includes the vital powers that citizens require to correct or improve the processes of government when actions by officials have not effectively served the interests of the people. But the incumbents in County offices believe that only they should have the rights to determine how the County is to be governed and they oppose efforts by the people. This posture was eloquently illustrated by the Charter amendment offered by the Ohana Kauai group last year to provide resident homeowners with relief from Kaua’i’s soaring real property taxes. This measure was adopted by the voters with a large majority but was opposed by all elected officials.

It is a vicious cycle. The more our citizens are concerned about government conduct the more our elected officials are pathological in seeking to repress the public voice.

At a Commission meeting in May Council chair Kaipo Asing appeared and made no suggestion that any amendments to the Charter were necessary. In fact, his principal comment reflected his implacable opposition to citizens rights and requested that the Commission not allow the Ohana action to recur.

Under the Charter as it now reads petitions are required from registered voters for citizen initiated actions such as amendment of the Charter, proposing certain ordinances, impeachment of government officials and recalls. The Charter specifies the content of voter petitions needed for these purposes.

Last week the Council unveiled a new gambit to undermine citizens rights to participate in government affairs. Mr. Asing has now introduced three bills for adoption by the Council as ordinances to govern the petition process which make compliance with the petition requirements far more onerous and offer confusion with Charter provisions.

The provisions in our Charter were written to assure that voters had an adequate remedy in cases where the government or officials had not properly served them. They provide for both the rights and the procedures to use them. What the elected officials who oppose the rights given to the public are trying to do is side step these reasonable arrangements. If our officials have any legitimate objections to the present terms of the Charter in these regards they should be offered to the Commission so that the Commission can evaluate them and make its recommendations for the voters’ decision. Both history and the fact that Charter terms supersede and preempt inconsistent ordinance terms makes the expression of these terms in ordinances inappropriate. It seems that the Council is again seeking a fight with the people that it can’t win unless the people are asleep. Are we?

  • Walter Lewis is a Princeville resident

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