Charter Amendment questions on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Taking ownership of your government, means understanding the items upon which you are called upon to vote on.

I encourage all to prepare for your vote on the upcoming charter amendment questions by first, actually reading the charter:

On Nov. 6, voters will be asked to vote on the following questions:

Relating to the Public Defender — Question 1

Shall the charter be amended by repealing Article IX, Public Defender, as this function is already provided by the State?

Relating to the Electric Power Authority -— Question 2

Shall the Charter be amended to repeal Article XXX, which empowers the Council to create an electric power authority by ordinance?

Relating to the Zoning Board of Appeals — Question 3

Shall Article XIV, Planning Department, sections 14.01, 14.03, 14.12, 14.13, and 14.14 be amended by removing all references to the zoning board of appeals?

Relating to the Public Access, Open Space, Natural Resources Preservation Fund — Question 4

Shall Article XIX, Financial Procedures, Section 19.15 © be amended to permit the Public Access, Open Space, Natural Resources Preservation Fund to include improvements?

Relating to the Salary Commission — Question 5

Shall Article XXIX, Salary Commission, Sections 29.01 and 29.03 be amended to give the salary commission authority to establish the maximum salaries of all elected and appointed officials, and to add the director of human resources and the director of finance as ex-officio members of the commission?

Relating to term limits for the office of Councilmember — Question 6

Shall the term limit of office for Councilmember be removed?

I am hopeful that the office of elections will provide additional background and educational information to voters in time for them to review and digest some of the implications.

For now, here is my initial take in a sentence or two on each.

Ballot Question 1 (Public Defender): This appears to be “housekeeping” in nature and thus fairly inconsequential. It is interesting though that the drafters of this question thought to include “… as this function is already provided by the State” by way of an explanation as to why the Charter Amendment is needed. NONE of the other proposals include a “why” element.

Ballot Question 2 (Electric Power Authority): This question also appears to be “housekeeping” since KIUC, a member owned cooperative has been established and it would seem unlikely the county would want to take it over.

Ballot Question 3 (Zoning Board of Appeals): This question seeks to eliminate the Zoning Board of Appeals. Without knowing the background and reasoning, this appears to be a hugely significant change.

The existing Charter Section 14.13 (proposed to be repealed), states in part:

Duties and Functions of the Zoning Board of Appeals.

A. Conduct hearings in accordance with chapter 91, Hawaii Revised Statutes regarding the violation of the zoning and subdivision ordinance and the regulations adopted thereunder;

B. Hear and determine appeals alleging error from any person aggrieved by a decision or order of the director regarding the application, interpretation, or enforcement of zoning and subdivision ordinances as prescribed by ordinance;

C. Conduct hearings for land-use-related appeals which the board may be required to pass on pursuant to the charter or ordinance; and

Section 14.14 (also proposed to be repealed) states in part:

Appeals. Appeals from any decision of the planning commission or the zoning board of appeals shall be instituted in the circuit court within thirty days after service of a certified copy of the decision of the commission or the board. All commission and board proceedings and appeals shall be in conformity with the Hawai‘i Administrative Procedure Act. (Amended 2016)

Definitely more research is needed on the prospect of repealing the Zoning Board of Appeals.

Ballot Question 4 (Public Access, Open Space, Natural Resources Preservation Fund): This question proposes to expand the authorized use of the funds by allowing them to be used for “improvements” (as opposed to land/easement/use purchases only). The danger here is that the definition becomes so broad that it eventually is used for “operating costs” rather than for acquisition of new lands that were the funds original purpose.

Ballot Question 5 (Salary Commission): One of the stickiest issues facing any politician is the subject of pay raises, both for himself/herself and for directors/administrators. It is unclear from the language included in this question, whether the intention is to expand the Salary Commissions authority and thus take the council out of the decision making process, or not. Historically the Salary Commission has recommended significant increases at all levels, in what is normally framed as an effort to seek “parity” with both the private sector and the internal county salary structures. However, given the negative political nature of the appearance of the council giving itself a raise, and/or raising the salaries of the top level administrators, the Council in the past has for the most part resisted granting those raises. Taking the council out of the decision making process and simply leaving it up to the Salary Commission, would no doubt result in regular increases in the salaries of both the elected politicians and the top administrators. More research is needed here.

Ballot Question 6 (Term Limit Repeal): In 2006 Kauai residents voted overwhelmingly 13,266 to 6,139, to amend the charter and limit councilmembers from serving no more than four consecutive two-year terms. Councilmember Ross Kagawa introduced and the council passed (5 to 2) this charter proposal that seeks to repeal that term limit charter provision. A yes vote will repeal term limits, and a no vote will keep the existing term limits in place.

I will write more on these items in the weeks ahead. I encourage all to study these issues, read the charter, discuss the issues with your friends, and then vote!


Gary Hooser formerly served in the state Senate, where he was majority leader. He also served for eight years on the Kauai County Council and was former director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control. He serves presently in a volunteer capacity as board president of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (HAPA) and is executive director of the Pono Hawaii Initiative.

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