Council to study county manager system

LIHUE — The Kauai County Council will form a subcommittee to study the possibility of switching to a county manager system of government.

Kauai County currently operates under a mayor-council system in which councilmembers are elected to serve as the county’s legislative body, and a mayor is independently elected to serve as the county’s chief executive.

Under a county manager system, the role of mayor would become largely ceremonial or completely eliminated, and the council would hire a professional manager to carry out the executive functions of running government operations.

The idea to study the county manager system was proposed by Councilmember Mason Chock, who said he believes residents may be potentially better served under that model.

“It’s worth looking into because there are many constituents in the community who have said they would like to see a government structure that is more accountable and take some of the politics out of the process,” he said.

The three-member subcommittee, which has not yet been formed, will likely include Planning Committee Chair Mason Chock, Finance Committee Chair Arryl Kaneshiro and Intergovernmental Committee Chair KipuKai Kuali’i.

Chock stressed that the subcommittee will study the county manager system to determine the cost and potential benefits compared to the current system, but that no decision has been made yet about whether this is the best way to proceed.

“I’m not bought and sold on the county manager system,” Chock said. “I value the separation of powers that the mayoral system currently has.”

“We may find there are other ways to accomplish what we want and this is one avenue,” he said.

If the council does recommend moving forward with a plan to change the county charter, it would still need to go on the ballot for a public vote.

Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura said that she would want to know in detail what an alternative plan would look like. She also warned that having a county manager form of government could actually cause more decisions to be based on politics.

“I have been on the council where the city county clerk has been chosen primarily by politics and kept in place by serving the majority and catering to the majority that keeps him or her in place, and didn’t always work to the best interest of the county,” Yukimura said during a council meeting on the topic. “So if the devil is in the details and if we’re going to change the system, we need to really look at things very carefully.”

Chock said the plan is not a result of dissatisfaction with Mayor Bernard Carvalho, Jr. or his administration, and should not be viewed as a power grab. If approved by voters, the switch would likely not take effect until after the end of the mayor’s term.

“This system would allow for more accountability and less of a stronghold for the political structure,” Chock said.

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