LIHUE — Different interpretations on the rules dictating conduct during Kauai County Council meetings has led to Councilwoman JoAnn Yukimura silently standing in protest.
The Rules of Council of the County of Kauai say that council members have five minutes to speak on each agenda item and cannot speak more than twice on the same topic.
That rule is arbitrary, Yukimura said.
“It doesn’t stop comments because they are rude or disruptive — which would be understandable,” she said. “Instead it stops any commentary or perspective even though factual and relevant, if a council member tries to speak more than twice— even though the council member may have spoken no more than two minutes total.”
It is up to the council chair to enforce the rules or to call the meeting back to order when discussion gets heated, the rules state.
“I have, on several occasions, called for a recess when council members refuse to comply with a request to follow the rules,” said Mel Rapozo, council chair.
Rapozo said he doesn’t enjoy calling recesses or calling the meeting back to order.
“But (it) is necessary to keep the meeting moving in a productive manner,” he said.
The rules are not new, said Rapozo added.
“These rules have been in place for well over 10 years; however, they were never strictly enforced,” he said. “As the chair for the current council term, my policy is to strictly enforce the rules for all members.”
Enforcing the rules has resulted in more efficient, faster meetings, Rapozo said.
During a committee meeting on Sept. 14 and a council meeting Sept. 21, Yukimura got out of her seat after she was denied another chance to speak. She remained standing for several minutes.
Yukimura believes Rapozo usesthe rules “to stop speech that he disagrees with.”
Being able to balance what council members want to say and following the rules is important, Rapozo said.
“I simply focus on the points that I want to get across to the public and my colleagues,” he said.
Other meeting rules for council members include prohibiting private discussion during session and addressing only the chair during discussion. It also sets parameters of the council chambers by prohibiting unauthorized people from entering the floor and setting guidelines on where people sit at the table.
The rules also allow the introducer of a measure to have 20 minutes to speak on the subject, which gives them time to put the measure into context.
“The rules of the council are very important because they determine the quality of information and dialogue among the council members and with the public, and that affects how successful the council will be in problem-solving and policy-making and that affects what kind of community we live in,” Yukimura said.
The rules also shed light on how business is done during the meetings, said Councilman Mason Chock.
Resolution No. 2015-02, which was introduced by Rapozo in October 2015 , proposed changing some of the rules of the council. Specifically, it sought to prohibit councilmembers from questioning people who speak during public comment. The measure was passed 4 to 2.
The rule change stirred up controversy because people said it was aimed at Yukimura, who was known for asking several questions of the testifiers.
It’s important to question testifiers because the public could have answers to the issue at hand, Yukimura said.
“It severely hampers councilmembers from learning important facts and details about a complex problem that we are trying to solve,” she said.
Chock believes self-control during times of contention is the key to a successful meeting.
“There are many times when the discussion veers off topic, loses focus or can sound like an attack on others view points,” he said. “We should all practice humility and treat others with respect and dignity no matter if differences arise. This will allow healthy discourse and dialogue to occur for effective problem solving to ensue.”
Council members Gary Hooser, KipuKai Kuali’i, Arryl Kaneshiro and Ross Kagawa declined to comment for this story.