County manager option won’t be on ballot

Charter Review Commission adopts 3 amendments; mayoral candidate speaks out

by Nathan Eagle – THE GARDEN ISLAND

The county Charter Review Commission on Monday decided to hold off on putting a proposed charter amendment on the ballot this fall that would let voters choose whether Kaua‘i should switch to a county manager form of government.

Commission Chair Jonathan Chun said because the proposal would fundamentally alter how the county operates, it should be studied in greater depth before putting it before the electorate.

“Questions need to be asked. Answers need to be gotten,” he said, despite some residents testifying that they have the information they need.

With an internal Aug. 1 deadline, the four-hour meeting at the Historic County Building marked the commission’s last chance to approve charter amendments for the Nov. 4 election.

Of the seven proposals on its agenda, the commission adopted three relating to elections, executive sessions and ethics. It shelved three others that dealt with the release of county attorney opinions, Kaua‘i County Council term limits and conflicts of interest.

The County Attorney’s Office will give a final review to the approved charter amendments before sending them to the county Elections Division for placement on the ballot, Office of Boards and Commissions Administrator John Isobe said.

Residents who have pushed the commission for months to let voters decide this year on the county manager proposal were disappointed with the commission’s decision.

Among the few who testified on the item was mayoral candidate Rolf Bieber of Kapa‘a.

“I think it’s a pretty good idea,” he said, noting the campaign risk in publicly stating his opinion on the controversial matter.

Bieber, a computer technician at Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School, said he is a “living example” of why a county manager system could serve residents better.

The current qualifications for mayor are to be at least 30 years old and a Kaua‘i resident for at least three years immediately prior to the election.

“I’m not experienced in government,” Bieber said. “I’m doing this for my people.”

After saying he was willing to do the “heavy lifting” if elected to serve in the office, Bieber said a county manager system would put a professional in place who is highly trained in managing municipalities and large budgets.

“I’m putting myself out there,” he told the commission.

Under Kaua‘i’s current strong mayoral form of government, voters elect a mayor who heads the executive branch at the county level.

In a county manager system, an elected legislative body hires someone to manage the municipality. This person is accountable to the council, not voters. The council chair serves as mayor and performs the ceremonial duties in addition to the legislative work.

Kapa‘a resident Ken Taylor, a council candidate, said it is not a “cure-all,” but it “just makes good business sense.”

Commissioner Barbara Bennett, in her first meeting with the commission since replacing Derek Kawakami, said it goes much deeper — to the state constitution, to branches of government.

“I wish it was as simple as choosing between a black and white TV and a color TV,” she said.

Kapa‘a resident Glenn Mickens said the current system is broken, noting inadequate infrastructure, a near-full landfill and rampant development.

“Don’t waste another two years,” Lawai resident John Hoff, another council candidate, said. “Stop the stalling tactics and let the body politic, we the people, vote on this measure.”

Chun said he intends to set up workshops with “key resources” over the next year to provide educational opportunities to the commission and the public on the county manager system.

The commission approved three charter amendments to let voters decide this fall if the two candidates receiving the highest number of votes in the primary election should be placed on the ballot for the general election; whether the council should be allowed to hold executive session meetings in conformance with the state Sunshine Law; and if volunteer members of county boards should be allowed to represent private business interests before other county departments, agencies or boards.

The approved versions of these charter amendments reflected the input of Kekaha resident Bruce Pleas, another council candidate.

After he testified that the ballot question to amend Section 3.07 E of the charter was “180 degrees” from what the commission was trying to pass, the commission changed the final wording to better convey the intent of the proposed amendment.

The next step for the commission is compiling the pros and cons of its approved amendments and beginning the public education process.

The council today at the Historic County Building will discuss a resolution initiating a charter amendment that would let voters decide if Kaua‘i should have a county auditor.

Then at 1:30 p.m. at Council Chambers, the seven-member legislative body will hold public hearings on three additional resolutions proposing charter amendments related to disclosure of interests, financial procedures and how ballots are counted for charter amendments.

To view the agendas in their entirety, visit www.kauai.gov

• Nathan Eagle, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 224) or neagle@kauaipubco.com

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