LIHUE — A resolution that seeks to institute a county manager was deferred during the Kauai County Council meeting Wednesday.
Citing the need to get opinions from legal experts, including the attorney general, the council voted 5-2 to defer the resolution until the June 15 committee meeting.
“We are doing our due diligence,” said Council Chair Mel Rapozo. “I want more details before we put the item to rest.”
Rapozo said he wants an opinion from the attorney general about whether the county manager position would be exempt from the civil service process, which serves as a merit system for county employees.
According to the charter, all civil service positions are subject to the civil service process. There are some exemptions, but county manager is not one of them, said Mauna Kea Trask, county attorney.
“I want to make sure we cover all basis,” Rapozo said. “I tend to agree with Mauna Kea (Trask) that this position would not be exempt, and would have to go through the civil service process. Which would defeat the purpose of having the system in the first place.”
Along with Rapozo, council members Mason Chock, Gary Hooser, JoAnn Yukimura and KipuKai Kuali’i voted to defer the resolution Wednesday.
“It’s important to keep the momentum going,” Yukimura said.
She proposed to defer the resolution until May 2017, saying it will give the county enough time to hammer out all the details.
She also suggested taking the resolution to the charter commission, which can put it on the ballot for a special election.
“One of the things for me that is attractive about a special election in a non-election year is that the community could really focus their discussion and debate about how this would really work,” she said. “It would be a much more educational environment, focusing on the plus and minuses and make a good decision.”
The idea of a county manager was introduced as a way to hold government officials accountable and remove some politics from the system.
Kauai County operates under a mayor-council system in which council members 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 ceremonial, and the council would hire a professional manager to carry out the executive functions of running government operations.
It’s that power shift Kuali’i wants to make sure the public understands.
“It’s not the mayor as you know it now,” he said. “The mayor would have a separate authority, who would in essence, be the chair of this body.”
Hiring a county manager, who would be approved by a majority vote by the council, is beneficial because that person is a professional who meets certain qualifications, Yukimura said.
“The body would choose a professional manager who is not elected, and would not be making political appointments for the department heads,” she said.
Councilmen Ross Kagawa and Arryl Kaneshiro voted against the deferral.
“The process we have is based on checks and balances — the United States government has it, the Hawaii state Legislature has it,” Kagawa said. “Is changing the checks and balances system going to mean an improvement to our system? I believe the answer is no.”
Kagawa said there will be unexpected consequences to instituting that form of government.
“You’re going to take the ‘check’ out of the checks and balances,” he said. “There could be an outcome the voters weren’t expecting, which is a government that is worse than now.”
Kaneshiro said he doesn’t agree with changing the county’s entire government structure.
“I can almost guarantee that system will have problems,” he said.