LIHUE — Arguing that a council-manager form of government would not solve the county’s problems, the Kauai County Council unanimously voted Wednesday to kill a resolution that would have let the people decide.
“We don’t fix things by throwing away an entire system and introducing a completely new one, expecting it to be our solve-all,” said Councilman Arryl Kaneshiro.
On Wednesday, Councilman Ross Kagawa suggested changing the current mayor-council system by allowing the mayor to fire county managers who aren’t doing their job.
“It’s the taxpayers’ money and they deserve good decisions,” he said.
A county manager who is appointed, not elected, would not be able to solve the county’s perceived problems, Kagawa added.
“I’m a little weary that if we put something like this on the ballot, and we rely on one guy to correct all the years of kicking the can down the road, he isn’t going to be able to stop it,” he said. “We need a systematic change on a larger scope.”
Kaneshiro and Kagawa, along with council members KipuKai Kuali’i and Mel Rapozo, council chair, voted to kill the resolution.
Council members Gary Hooser, JoAnn Yukimura and Mason Chock were not able to attend the meeting.
“I’m not confident this is the way to go,” Kuali’i said. “I’ve been hearing from many constituents that they don’t want to see a wholesale change in the system. They still want the ability to elect a mayor and want a separation of power between the administrative and legislative branches.”
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.
If the people really want to have the opportunity to vote on a council-manager form of government, they can draft a petition, Kaneshiro said.
Several Kauai residents spoke in favor of the council-form of government, saying it would add accountability to the system.
“People should decide how they want to be governed,” said Ken Taylor.
Alice Parker said the council-manager system is preferable because it adds credibility to the position.
“The person would be chosen, based not on popularity, but on their ability,” she said.
Matt Bernabe said he didn’t support the council-manger system. Instead, he suggested pulling policies from that system and adding them to what’s already in place.
He suggested changing the way department heads are hired and evaluated, rather than leaving it up to the mayor.
“The mayor doesn’t know the best, as evidenced by some of his department heads,” he said. “When you are making bike trails with no due process, that’s not a good department head. When you are focused on ripping up good roads, and then ask us to supply money to fix the roads you’re ignoring, that’s not good department heads. We need to change that, not the system.”