Changing with the times

LIHUE — When Kauai residents take to the polls on Nov. 8, they will have more to vote for than just state and county officials.

Seven amendments to Kauai’s Charter, which was adopted in 1968, will appear on the ballot. Amendments to the charter include changing language to make it as gender neutral as possible, expanding the duties of the fire chief and establishing a zoning board of appeals, among others.

“Many aspects of our lives and how the county does business have changed over time and the charter needs to reflect that change,” said Allan Parachini, chair of the Charter Review Committee.

People should take an active interest in the amendments and take the time to vote on them because the charter defines how the county’s government works, he said.

“Even though some of these amendments may seem inconsequential, they are all part of the process of keeping our charter up-to-date and may have ramifications for years to come,” he said.

An example of this is the proposed amendment which, if passed, will establish a zoning board of appeals, which will hear appeals of the planning director’s decisions about zoning and subdivision ordinance violations.

The zoning board of appeals will take away the need to hire outside hearings officers.

“The zoning board of appeals, for example, would have a lasting influence on how zoning disputes are resolved, an issue that potentially effects everyone and goes directly to the pace and nature of future development,” Parachini said.

The need for a separate body that deals solely with appeals stemmed from an increasing number of contested case hearings, resulting in the Planning Commission having to hire hearings officers. The proposed zoning board of appeals would consist of seven people, who are appointed by the mayor and approved by the Kauai County Council. It is not a paid job.

But not every proposed amendment will make such an obvious change, Parachini said.

One example is the amendment that clarifies the duties of the fire chief, which includes addressing hazardous materials, emergency medical services and ocean safety.

The section of the charter dealing with the responsibilities of the fire department was written before the Fire Commission was formed, so the current language does not recognize all of its duties.

“The amendment clarifying the responsibilities of the fire department merely recognizes the fundamental ways the department does business that have been the case for many years, especially with the shift toward ever larger volumes of medical calls, but which have not been included in the duties of the department as defined in the current charter,” Parachini said.

Another example of an amendment that simply addresses language is one that ensures pronouns and other descriptive words are as gender neutral as possible. That same amendment also deals with grammatical, formatting and spelling errors.

“The amendment making changes to grammar, spelling and gender references is intended to have no discernible effect, but it also intended to eliminate what many perceive as an inherent gender bias in the charter, with dozens of references to ‘him’ or ‘he,’ but few references to women per se,” Parachini said. “The law assumes ‘he’ to mean ‘he’ or ‘she,’ but many women find this jarring in today’s age of gender awareness.”

The Charter Review Commission meets every month to discuss changes to the charter. There have been changes on the ballot during even-numbered years, and there are always changes for the residents to vote on, he said.

The current Charter Review Commission will disperse at the end of 2016, and changes cannot be made to the charter for 10 years.

Other amendments include:

– Renaming the Civil Defense Agency to the Emergency Management Agency, in accordance with a state law, which renamed Civil Defense to Emergency management. Because of the change, Kauai’s charter is inconsistent with state law. The amendment has no effect on operations, Parachini said.

– Decreasing the required percentage of signatures on a petition to propose an ordinance to 10 percent.

– Increasing the percentage of voters required to propose a charter amendment to 10 percent. “This makes the required percentage consistent at 10 percent for those wishing to propose an ordinance, referendum or charter amendment,” the amendment states.

– Establishing a permanent charter review commission.

Amendments that are passed will go into effect 30 days after they are approved, Parachini said.

Info: http://www.kauai.gov/charter

An article in Monday’s edition said that an amendment to the Kauai Charter on the Nov. 8 ballot seeks to expand the role of the police chief. It is the role of the fire chief that would be expanded.

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