LIHUE — Kauai County will hold public meetings over the next few months to gather input on a proposal to elect the county’s seven councilmembers by district rather than at-large.
The move, approved Monday with a 4-2 vote by Charter Review commissioners, creates a subcommittee charged with arranging the meetings, collecting input and reporting the findings.
Commissioners Joel Guy and Ed Justus V voted against the public meetings proposal.
“I certainly understand the desire for going out and getting the public’s opinion,” Justus said before casting his vote.
“I think it’s also important to consider that the people who show up at public meetings do not necessarily represent the majority of people who vote. … They may be the majority in that room but they do not necessarily represent the majority — it’s very difficult for us to gauge what the public’s reaction is.”
Commissioner Jimmy Nishida, Jr., however, said there is some value to the public meeting process like in 2010, when the Charter Review Commission considered whether the county should switch over to a strong county manager, rather than a strong mayor, form of government.
“I thought that the county manager, one, had more support than what had evidently happened, so I think that it surprised people here,” Nishida said. “So, if the same thing happens, where if more people support the current system, then … why put it on the ballot, spend the money and work on it, if most people, when you go out, come out to the meeting and say, ‘No, I want to vote for all of them?’”
According to committee approved language for the proposed changes, two candidates for each vacant district office receiving the highest number of votes in the primary election will be placed on the ballot for the general election.
In the event of a tie vote, the candidates receiving the same number of votes shall be placed on the ballot for the general election.
At the general election, the candidates receiving the highest number of votes for each vacant district council office will be elected. Ties that take place in the general election shall be determined by a method of chance as determined by the county clerk.
These candidates for seven district seats must reside in the district they represent, county spokeswoman Mary Daubert said.
But it may be up to the public to determine whether a voter can only vote for one candidate in his or her district, or cast a vote for a candidate in each of the seven districts.
If the proposed ballot question is approved by voters, the first election by separate council districts shall take place in the 2016 primary election.
And the issue itself, as it turns out, is not a new one.
According to a subcommittee report submitted to the Charter Review Commission last month, similar measures on changing the at-large process to a district one were considered by voters in 1982, 1996, and 2006.
In 1982, when voters considered on whether there should be three district seats and four at-large seats, there was a 43.9 percent gap between those who approved the measure and those voted against the measure.
That gap narrowed to 12.5 percent in 1996, when county voters struck down a five district seats and two at-large seats proposal, and 1.7 percent in 2006, when constituents again voted down a three district seats and four at-large seats proposal.