LIHUE — A resolution that would let citizens vote on ending term limits for the County Council drew ire from some community members on Wednesday.
Thirty-four pieces of written testimony were submitted, and about five people spoke during a public comment session at the Historic County Building.
Prior to public testimony, Council Chair Mel Rapozo said there was some misinformation about the council’s role in having the resolution placed on the ballot.
The resolution, he said, is for a charter amendment, meaning it would need five votes to pass the council and then go on the ballot for citizens to vote on during the next election.
“The council does not have the authority to change term limits, add term limits, remove (term limits), but by the emails that I received and I received quite a bit, it is very clear that the people who testified were informed that the council was going to vote to change the term limits. So that’s not the case,” Rapozo said.
Urging the council to oppose this resolution, Carl Imparato said that less than 12 years ago, residents voted 69 percent to 31 percent to impose term limits for the council. He said it was almost unbelievable that the council would even contemplate overturning this.
“When voters spoke in 2006, they clearly recognized it was both bad government and unfair to allow career politicians to build ever-increasing power basis for their time in office, giving long-term incumbents overwhelming advantages over their opponents,” Imparato said.
For a councilmember to vote on any matter that would benefit themselves, Imparato said, is a conflict of interest.
“The ethical way for the council to proceed would be to reject this proposed resolution and instead, ask the Charter Review Commission whether or not any proposal regarding term limits could be placed on the ballot,” he said.
Term limits, said Anne Walton, create regular opportunity to bring in new blood and a diverse pool of candidates that can re-energize government. She said they ensure councilmembers are not using their position for personal gain or as retirement plans.
“Term limits can serve as an equalizer for potential new candidates, especially the younger and more qualified and experienced ones who are running against longer term incumbents who over time have enormous advantages in fundraising and their ability to use their office to win the election.”
The resolution was proposed by Council Vice Chair Ross Kagawa, who was not present for the first part of the public discussion on the matter, but later joined the rest of the council.
“I find it disrespectful that the person who brought this issue to the public isn’t at the table to discuss it,” said Ken Taylor. “This issue should be put to bed and the request should be sent to the Charter Council for review.”
The council position, Taylor said, was never meant to be full time. Having term limits opens it up for new people to come in, he said.
Speaking as a private citizen, parks director Lenny Rapozo said he supports the resolution, because since moving back to Kauai in the late 1980s, he’s seen changeover in the council, not because of term limits, but because people have voted members off the council.
“In the last election, some of those people are not there, not because of term limits, but because of the people’s rights to choose,” Lenny Rapozo said.
The democratic process, he said, is about the public choosing who they see fit to govern and help govern.
“If the people so choose to see that they continue to do a good job, then they are kept in,” Lenny Rapozo said.
“So I encourage you to support this resolution to reinstate our right to choose who governs.”
The resolution is scheduled to be moved through committee and then be voted on by the council at the March 14 meeting. If it passes, the people of Kauai will be voting on whether to end term limits for councilmembers during the upcoming General Election.