For over 10 years I have been writing articles with the “A Better Kauai” theme because I have been trying to encourage actions that will enhance the lives of the people on our beautiful island.
Our County Council had on its June 15 meeting agenda for consideration a proposal that would have, with voter approval, established on Kauai an improved form of government.
At present we have what is known as a mayor-council system of government. That system entrusts to an elected mayor whose qualifications for office are limited to being 30 years of age and winning an election the responsibilities of managing the operations of our county which under our latest budget will cost over $189 million annually.
The alternative under consideration by the council known as the council-manager system would entrust such management of county operations to a professional with education and experience in the handling of municipal governmental affairs.
The alternate system is in widespread use throughout our country and it is generally viewed as likely to achieve efficiencies that will generate substantial operational savings that will give taxpayers comfort.
After nearly a year of study, the council had developed a resolution which contained provisions that would create a thoughtfully designed version of the council-manager system that would give the manager authority over the county’s operations and make an elected mayor the chair of the council. A few minor issues remained unresolved.
Five favorable votes are required for the council to initiate a charter amendment. At its May 4, 2016 meeting five of the seven council members indicated that they would support offering the resolution, subject to clarification of some minor issues, to the voters for their determination.
However, there were forces at work to undermine this action. County employee attorneys raised doubts about whether the manager would be exempt from state civil service law requirements.
If not exempt, the planned employment of the manager by the council would be impaired or crippled . The council was advised that the opinion of the state Attorney General (AG) would be sought on this issue.
The civil service law provides that all county employees are subject to it unless exempted. Among others exemptions are given to department heads.
But the request made no mention of the fact that the manager would head a department to administer county operations and inquired only if the office title would be exempt and the opinion advised it would not. Ask the wrong question and you get the wrong answer.
In its opinion, the AG’s office readily agreed that the county auditor, the head of a small department, would be exempt and it seems equally plausible that it would agree that the manager also head of a small department would as well.
Without recognizing that the request to the AG was flawed, one of the council members indicated he did not wish to oppose the county’s lawyers, defected and chose to withdraw his resolution support.
At its June 15 meeting with a bare quorum of four council members in attendance (Rapozo, Kagawa, Kaneshiro and Kuali‘i) reviewed the proposal which still had not been put into a final version and voted unanimously to receive (kill) the measure.
By this premature action, the council closed the door for our time on the most important piece of legislation it may ever consider — one whose efficiency could be expected to save our taxpayers multi-millions of dollars in the coming years.
The action by our council members which I cannot justify also deprived our citizens of their precious democratic right to determine how they wish to be governed. The future welfare of our county and its people has incurred a grievous blow.
Walter Lewis is a retired attorney who lives on Kauai and writes a column for The Garden Island.