County mulls Charter Review Commission’s future

LIHU‘E — With the Charter Review Commission’s workload winding down, county officials are weighing whether to make the commission permanent or let it sunset in 2017 as planned.

At the heart of the debate is concern over the severe learning curve new members would experience when the commission resumes its work in 2027, balanced with a desire to avoid straining county finances by keeping the seven-member appointed body alive in the meantime.

Voters may eventually decide the matter if officials place a question on the ballot asking if the charter should be amended to make the commission permanent. But that is not expected anytime soon. Right now, the commission is simply gathering input.

The Kaua‘i County Charter was amended in 2006 to create a Charter Review Commission to study and review the operation of the county government for a 10-year period. The CRC is one of three vehicles that can put charter amendments on the ballot; the other two are the Kaua‘i County Council and via citizens petition.

The CRC is the only county commission with an expiration date. When it was created in 2007, the commission came with a sunset clause to take effect 10 years after its inception.

Boards and Commissions Administrator John Isobe said under the current charter, after the existing CRC expires a new one would be formed again in 2027.

In May, commissioners discussed the possibility of proposing a change in the charter to make the commission permanent, according to CRC Chair Sherman Shiraishi.

“It’s not an easy commission; we’re dealing with legalities here,” Shiraishi told the council at its July 6 meeting. “There are very technical matters, and the commission members at a prior meeting felt that it may be a good idea to change it from a 10-year commission to a permanent commission.”

Shiraishi said one of the issues that came up at the commission’s last meeting, May 23, was that the learning curve at the commission’s launch was “really high.”

“We were concerned that if the Charter Review Commission would expire in 2017, and the new charter commission formed thereafter, they would run into the same problems that we did,” he said.

Commission members were also concerned with the potential cost to the county if the commission becomes permanent. Shiraishi said they didn’t want to become a burden to the county’s finances, plus it appears that the commission’s work is winding down and there might not be a need for monthly commission meetings.

“It could be that we are examining this issue too early, because we still have until 2017 to determine whether we should have to do it on a permanent basis or not, although it appears to me our workload is kinda tapering off,” he said. “A lot of workload took place back in 2008 and 2010. We had a lot of items on the agenda, but lately it’s not too time-consuming.”

In last year’s election there were ballot questions related to changing the county’s form of government and council-member terms, he said, as opposed to current issues that deal with cleaning up grammatical errors and clarifying the charter’s language, which at times is “very vague.”

“We had a lot of substantive matter, now it’s more housekeeping,” Shiraishi said.

He said he doesn’t think the commission “feels strongly one way or the other” related to having a permanent commission. They first wanted to get input from the administration and the council before making a determination.

There’s still five years before the commission’s sunset date, and they can always revisit the issue, he said. “I don’t think it’s something that’s going to be put on the ballot anytime soon, not while I’m chairman anyway.”

Mayor’s opinion

An inquiry earlier this year from the commission to the county’s administration questioning the feasibility of a permanent commission yielded additional questions from Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.

“Has the commission clearly determined and outlined the remaining work and proposed amendments that it hopes to accomplish by 2016?” Carvalho said in a May 19 letter addressed to the commission. “If so, does this effort require permanent status or just a predetermined time extension for completion?”

Carvalho’s opinion was that it appeared “a little premature” to decide now if the commission should be provided with permanent status, given that it is “only at the midpoint” of its 10-year cycle.

“If in 2016 the Charter Review Commission reverts back to a once every 10-year cycle, charter amendments could still be considered via resolutions adopted by the County Council and/or citizen-initiated petitions during each 10-year interval,” Carvalho said in the letter. “Assuming that the commission can complete its work by 2016, what would be the rationale for continuing the commission for an indefinite period of time?”

Prudent decision-making, he said, requires the administration to weigh the cost of a permanent commission against the overall public need and benefit. Carvalho added that “in the near term” he would be open to consider additional support for the commission if its members felt it necessary to facilitate their work. He asked commissioners to discuss with Isobe possible requirements.

Council members appeared to agree that it’s too early to decide whether to make the commission permanent.

“I would be comfortable waiting to propose any changes; they have until 2016,” Councilwoman Nadine Nakamura said. “I’m not prepared to make that recommendation at this time.”

Limitations

Besides a 10-year life cycle, the commission follows a charter section that dictates all other boards and commissions: Members can only serve two consecutive three-year terms. Members can serve more than six years, as long as they are not stacked in consecutive terms.

“I served two terms as the chair,” Shiraishi said. “At the end of this year I will be required to rotate off.”

“The three-year term doesn’t make sense in either a 10-year scenario or a permanent scenario,” Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said.

Sherman said a possible solution would be to permit more than two consecutive three-year terms.

Council Chair Jay Furfaro said he “strongly” supports term extensions for the commission because there is a need to have a “deep familiarity” with the charter.

Adding to the problem, the charter prevents board and commission members to appear before any other board or commission on behalf of a client, which has caused many members to resign, according to Shiraishi.

Trying to address the problem, the commission proposed a charter amendment in 2008 that would allow members to represent their clients before county boards and commissions, as long as it was not the same board or commission they served on. But voters rejected the proposed amendment.

On Monday the commission will meet to discuss the responses from the administration and the council regarding a permanent commission, and also to discuss term limitations of all boards and commissions, among other agenda items.

Visit www.kauai.gov for more information.

• Léo Azambuja, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 252) or lazambuja@ thegardenisland.com.

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