At its July 1 meeting, the Kauai County Council unanimously adopted a resolution to form a subcommittee of councilmembers — Mason Chock (chair), Arryl Kaneshiro and Kipo Kai Kualii — to consider the potential establishment of the council-manager system of government for Kauai. The subcommittee has been given six months to conduct its investigations and make its recommendations.
Most of the testimony at the meeting favored the action taken, but former councilman Furfaro read a statement from Mayor Carvalho opposing the adoption of the resolution. While the mayor is entitled to his own view as to the merits of the council-manager system, his attempt to prevent the council’s consideration of the system was a major overstep by the mayor and an unjustified attempt to interfere with the council’s legislative power.
The mayor’s testimony was also seriously flawed. His statement relied on the failure five years ago of the mayor-appointed and presumably controlled Charter Review Commission to place the council-manager system on the ballot, saying that one of the main reasons for the failure was the question as to the legality of the system. He offered no other reason. He noted the frequently criticized “opinion” from the county attorney was adverse to the legality of such a system and ignored more recent advice from the state attorney general, which cited constitutional and judicial authority reaching the opposite conclusion. The statement in the mayor’s testimony about legality was countered by Council Chair Rapozo, who indicated that he believes the legal issue is favorably resolved.
The mayor’s opposition seems to persist even though councilmembers have clearly indicated that if the council-manager system is adopted it would not be effective until after the conclusion of the mayor’s present term. The mayor would not be eligible to seek re-election in 2018 because of charter term limit provisions and would not be directly affected. I am informed that resistance to the proposal stems from rumors that county employees could lose their positions with a manager.
As a manager would seek to make our government more efficient there might be some job reductions but since the required work of the county would continue any job loss would be minimal and working conditions would become more pleasant and efficient. And, of course, civil service and unions would preclude any arbitrary terminations. Our county employees would be well served to look beyond propaganda intended to prejudice their views.
After an initial orientation as to the scope of their work and the experience of other communities who have changed from a mayor-council system to a council-manager system, it is expected that the subcommittee will seek an outreach to Kauai residents to obtain their views on the various matters that will require decision.
While council-manager systems are uniform in having the manager succeed to the executive powers held by the mayor, there will be a variety of perhaps 12 to 15 issues such as the questions of whether a person designated as the mayor will have a seat on the County Council and as to the qualifications required for the manager to meet that will need to be resolved before a specific proposal could be offered to Kauai’s voters for their decision.
Changing the structure of our county government is a major step, and it is important for all of us to become familiar with the manager system concepts so that the proposal which is offered for citizen vote will reflect the consensus of public views on the ancillary issues as well as the main concept.
Time is an important factor. Presently, it is hoped that any proposal to restructure our county government made by the council will be presented at the November 2016 general election. If that date could not be met the next opportunity would not occur until November 2018 as Charter Amendment by Council Resolutions cannot be offered at special elections.
I intend at a later date to offer my views as to the advantages and disadvantages of the manager system. Although I consider the benefits of the manager system to outweigh its problems, it is vitally important that our electorate become aware of the comparisons.
Walter Lewis is a retired attorney who lives on Kauai and writes a regular column for The Garden Island.