Charter petition likely to die

LIHUE — Kauai County Councilman Mel Rapozo says it is unlikely that he will support receiving Kauai Rising’s proposed charter amendment, meaning the measure may be headed for defeat and would not appear on the November ballot.

“I haven’t read the attorney’s opinion but I believe that it is an initiative being pushed through as a charter amendment,” he wrote in an email Thursday. “At this point, I cannot support that.”

Here’s why Rapozo’s vote is crucial either way: On Wednesday, a six-member council voted 3-3 to receive the proposal, aimed at regulating the island’s genetically modified crop industry. Rapozo missed the meeting, and the split vote means it will be taken up by the full seven-member council July 23, when Rapozo could cast the deciding vote.

Rapozo’s absence was due to a trip to New Orleans where he is attending the National Association of Counties conference. He serves as president of the Hawaii State Association of Counties.

In a legal opinion released by the County Clerk’s Office, the Office of the County Attorney said the Kauai Rising petition — which has been revised and recirculated since being rejected by the clerk in light of a technical error — still does not meet the requirements of a charter amendment. Instead, it is an initiative being introduced as an amendment, the attorney’s office said. 

The two paths differ greatly, most notably because of the number of signatures required to put each one to a vote. While it takes only 5 percent of registered voters to petition a charter amendment, 20 percent is required to put forth an ordinance or referendum. The difference is 2,037 signatures versus 8,147.

“If a petition for an ordinance is labeled a charter amendment, it still remains an initiative and must comply with the procedures for an initiative,” Deputy County Attorney Mona Clark wrote in her opinion. “Both the County Council and the County Clerk have authority to refuse to process an initiative as a charter amendment.”

Representatives of Kauai Rising, however, see things differently.

Group member Michael Shooltz says the Kauai County Charter says nothing about the council having authority to stop the process, and that the council’s job is simply a formality — to send it back to the clerk for signature validation. 

Additionally, he said the attorney’s opinion doesn’t point out a single thing in the proposed charter amendment that violates any definition of a charter amendment.

Instead, Shooltz argues the opinion is full of “vague generalities,” and “seems to be more of a political document than a legal document.”

Should the council vote to reject the proposed charter amendment July 23, Shooltz said Kauai Rising has not yet decided how it would move forward. 

“We’ll see what they chose to do in two weeks,” he said of the council. “We’re hoping they will not chose to block the rights of the people.”

In addition to shifting the burden of proof to the agrochemical companies to prove that their operations on Kauai are safe, the Kauai Rising proposal would shift regulation and monitoring costs to the industry itself. It would also create a County Office of Environmental Health to implement and enforce the amendment, as well as establish civil and criminal penalties for noncompliance.

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