County manager debate deferred

Residents hoping for a choice between a county-manager and a strong-mayor forms of government on the November ballot had yet another setback during the Charter Review Meeting Monday.

A report from Commissioner Walter Briant recommending a proposed charter amendment relating to a county-manager form of government was deferred once again to the next meeting.

On May 19, the commission passed a motion to move the report, which is worded as a proposed charter amendment, forward for review by the County Attorney’s Office, the County Council, the Mayor’s Office and the Cost Control Office.

But with public comment from council members JoAnn Yukimura and Tim Bynum, the public, and letters from the Mayor’s Office and the Cost Control Office, Commission Chair Jonathan Chun said he still didn’t see the need for the proposed amendment.

“What is the problem we are trying to solve?” Chun said. “No one, in my mind, has said what the problem is.”

Every time the question is asked, different answers are given, Chun said.

“The last thing I want to do is put something like this in (the ballot) without knowing what the problem is,” Chun said. “The only discussion taking place is whether to put it on the ballot or not.”

Briant said he feels the problems are with the current system and need to be addressed.

“To me, it doesn’t work adequately because of the way the system works,” Briant said. “I don’t think we need to go down and isolate individual problems. We know what the problems are.”

A letter from Acting Mayor Gary Heu, speaking on behalf of the Mayor’s Office prior to Bryan Baptiste’s death, said a fully researched proposal should be conducted so the public can be well informed about the manager system.

An aspect of the proposal should include what the problems are with the current mayor/council structure, and to what extent the manager proposal addresses these problems, Heu states in the letter.

“I support continued research, study and dialogue on this proposal and the many others this commission may consider related to identifying and formulating necessary improvements to our existing governmental structural that will allow us to better meet and address the needs of our community,” Heu states.

As a supplement to her letter, Yukimura encouraged the commission to put together a committee to look into county-management systems in other cities.

“These are issues that need to be discussed thoroughly,” Yukimura said. “The city/county-manager form of government is a major change. We need to be very deliberate and thoughtful about it.”

The public needs to be involved in discussions and debate the issue before anything is put on the ballot, she added. Yukimura suggested that the commission, after November’s election, undertake a process to look at the county’s governance and how to improve it.

For his part, Bynum said he sees the value of a city-manager form of government, though he has concerns about a switch.

“It is a major fundamental change that has deep implications. I think there is plenty of work to do on the issue,” Bynum said.

Government watchdog Glenn Mickens of Kapa‘a said the current system is stagnated and a county manager would prove more effective.

Mickens said that problems such as infrastructure, low-income housing and traffic have not been fixed by the past three administrations.

“We need a professional manager to handle our $220 million budget,” Mickens said. “Nepotism and the old-boy system is rampant in our government. For the most part, people are hired and put in their positions not because of their qualifications and knowledge, but because of connections.”

Mickens did agree with Yukimura on one point, however — that research be done to show how and where the system is working.

In Briant’s proposed charter amendment, all managerial powers of the mayor would be given to a paid, professional county manager, except for the power to appoint members of county boards and commissions. That power would be given to the County Council.

The County Council would also elect one of its members to serve as chair and have the title of mayor. The council would then decide on the mayor’s non-managerial and ceremonial duties.

The only requirements for the mayor set forth in the charter are that the candidate must be at least 30 years old and a county resident.

The next meeting of the Charter Review Commission will be July 28, at 4 p.m.

• Rachel Gehrlein, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or rgehrlein@kauaipubco.com

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