Proposals considered offer fundamental changes
by Nathan Eagle – THE GARDEN ISLAND
Kaua‘i voters will likely see several proposed amendments to the county charter at the Nov. 4 general election.
Those under consideration involve fundamental changes to the way government operates, limitations on the rate of development, term limits for Kaua‘i County Council members and legal clarifications related to ethics and executive sessions.
There are three vehicles for putting a charter amendment on the ballot and each has its engine running this year.
CRC expects five resolutions
The county Charter Review Commission considered six proposed amendments on Tuesday at the Historic County Building. It deferred two and asked staff to put four others in the proper format for final review and approval at its July 28 meeting.
The commission’s chair, Jonathan Chun, said County Clerk Peter Nakamura, who administers the elections, gave the commission an Aug. 1 deadline to have the resolutions ready for any amendments to be placed on the ballot this fall.
The commission deferred a controversial proposed amendment that would change the county government structure from a strong mayoral system to a county manager form.
Commissioner Sherman Shiraishi said the commission’s rules prevent it from voting on the amendment without a legal review.
The county attorney’s opinion has been requested but not yet received, the commissioners said.
Chun said he wants the proposal to be studied more and asked what problem it would solve.
Commissioner Walter Briant said it may not be that the county is doing anything specifically wrong, but the professionalism a county manger could bring would be a drastic improvement to government operations.
“Your black and white television works fine, but wouldn’t you rather have a color television?” he said.
Chun said “technically it’s possible … practically it would be very difficult” for the amendment to be approved in time for the November election.
The commission deferred a proposed amendment from Glenn Mickens that would require county attorney opinions upon questions of law to be available in writing within two business days of issuance.
The four proposed amendments the commission voted to have staff prepare for final action at its next meeting dealt with diverse aspects of the charter.
One of the proposals would ask voters if they want to amend Section 20.04 B to prohibit council members from voting on issues in which they have a conflict of interest except when their vote is required to establish a quorum.
Another would amend Section 20.02 D to allow volunteer members of county boards and commissions to represent private business interests before other county departments, agencies or boards except the board or commission on which they serve.
Another would amend Section 3.07 E to allow the council to hold executive sessions in conformance with the state Sunshine Law. The council already does this, but some residents contend the charter prohibits the council from going behind closed doors for anything except claims.
Now, the argument is over what a claim is, Kapa‘a resident Glenn Mickens said.
“To all of a sudden decide that you’re going to make it more liberal like the state is completely wrong,” he said. “Leave it alone.”
The last proposed amendment that the commission advanced this week would increase the term of office for council members from two years to four years, make the terms staggered and establish term limits.
The county Office of Boards and Commissions staff is in the process of deciding if this will appear as three separate “yes or no” questions before voters or if there is a way to lump them into one.
“It would increase the professionalism and overall functioning of the County Council,” Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said.
Chun agreed, saying council members should be focused on adopting policies, not running for election every other year.
The only resolution for a charter amendment the commission, which started its work in January, had approved before Tuesday was a measure to amend Section 1.03 B (1).
The change, proposed by Kekaha resident Bruce Pleas, would require the names of the two candidates receiving the highest number of votes in the primary election to be placed on the ballot for the general election.
The commission will have an opportunity at its next meeting to make last minute changes to the resolutions before deciding whether to send them to the County Clerk’s Office for placement on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Four on the council floor
The second means of putting a proposed charter amendment on the ballot is at the council level, where four have been proposed since June.
Councilwoman Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho put three forward this week and each passed first reading.
The hottest discussion was over her resolution to make it harder to pass a charter amendment by counting blank ballots as “no” votes when calculating the total votes cast in an election.
North Shore resident Carl Imparato said this amendment is based on the assumption that the status quo is better than a proposed change.
But Yukimura said it is a matter of shifting the burden of proof.
Councilman Ron Kouchi said the state constitution requires blank votes to be counted as “no” votes, rightfully making it a harder process to change a fundamental governing document.
Kaua‘i counts blank votes as blank votes, he said.
Another of Iseri-Carvalho’s proposed charter amendments would restrict the mayor’s ability to transfer unencumbered appropriations except for specifically budgeted purposes with council approval.
The amendment would also stop the mayor from creating, filling or using any position other than its budgeted purpose without the council’s approval.
The councilwoman’s third proposed amendment addresses disclosure of interests by including any member of the council or any board or commission’s immediate family.
Councilman Jay Furfaro last month proposed an amendment to establish a County Auditor’s Office. It passed first reading and a public hearing was held Wednesday.
The council-proposed amendments need five votes for approval. That means five council members must vote in favor of the amendment for it to be placed on the ballot.
A petition to slow growth
The third avenue to propose a charter amendment is by petition.
The Coalition for Responsible Government, a group of concerned residents, utilized this process for an amendment to establish a growth rate consistent with the General Plan.
It would move the responsibility for tourist accommodation building permits from an appointed Planning Commission to the elected council and enact a 1.5 percent growth rate.
The signatures on the petition are in the process of being certified by the County Clerk’s Office. The charter requires signatures from at least 5 percent of the voters registered in the last general election.
If determined to have a sufficient number, Councilman Tim Bynum said the proposed amendment should be reviewed by the County Attorney’s Office to ensure it is worded properly, the intent is clear and it is constitutionally appropriate.
He said he hopes there will be a “quick and early” review so a discussion on the implications can happen before it goes to the ballot.
Bynum said he did not want to see the county repeat the mistake that was made with the ‘Ohana amendment, which missed an opportunity to go through the legal review process. Voters passed the charter amendment in the 2004 election, but the state Supreme Court found it unconstitutional.
• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or firstname.lastname@example.org