1/29/22  #kihei   MAUI NEWS FRONT PAGE

Public wants fewer amendments, which will be placed on ballot

Narrowing down the list of 40 proposed charter amendments that could be placed on the general election ballot is one of the bigger challenges the Maui County Charter Commission has on its plate as it prepares to complete its report on proposed changes to county government.

The proposals being considered include changing council elections from at-large elections to elections within three county districts, establishing new planning commissions for each community plan area and bifurcating the Department of Housing and Human Concerns.

 

Every 10 years, a charter commission composed of 11 appointed volunteer members convenes to study and review the operation of the government under the Maui County Charter. The mayor appoints two members and the nine members of the Maui County Council each appoint one. The commission then meets to discuss potential changes and may propose amendments or draft a new charter.

Commission members have a deadline of Feb. 18 to submit their list of proposed charter amendments to the council for review. The council will then have about a month to make any recommendations on the amendments, commissioners said. It will then be up to the commission to make any changes if it wants to, or leave the amendments as they are to be placed on the general election ballot. The council also has an opportunity to propose charter amendments of its own.

Commission Chairman Grant Chun said Friday that members are finishing up their proposed final changes and that the commission will be scheduling meetings possibly as early as next week to discuss and prepare the final report. Public testimony is also welcome.

The commission held two meetings this week to hear comments from the public on its draft report containing the 40 ballot proposals that had been whittled down from the 85 charter amendment proposals approved by the commission after its nearly yearlong review.

 

During Wednesday’s meeting, former longtime County Council Member Riki Hokama cautioned the commission to look for unintended consequences, such as how the proposals could affect taxpayers, how large county government could grow, as well as the effective dates of the amendments.

Like others who testified, Hokama said he also hoped the commission would whittle down the 40 proposals “to something workable.”

One of the amendments that received both support and opposition included the proposal to abolish the current Maui Planning Commission and create planning commissions for each community plan area.

Maui County Planning Director Michele McLean, who testified this week and submitted written comments, said the department opposes the proposals but supports an alternative approach.

If the amendment were to pass, it would create six planning commissions, and McLean said there is not sufficient work volume to justify the six.

She explained that last year, the Maui Planning Commission reviewed 11 projects in West Maui, nine in South Maui, five each in Central Maui and Paia-Haiku and two each in Upcountry and Hana.

She also noted that all commissioners will need to be trained in a wide variety of state and county land use and procedural law and policies, and that there would be a lack of consistency in decisions among the different commissions. It would also create more work for staff, which will need to provide different materials for each commission, McLean told charter commissioners on Wednesday.

To achieve the goal of getting more local voices into planning decisions, McLean proposed having regional representation requirements for the Maui Planning Commission’s nine members, such as mandating that the panel have members from each of the six community plan regions.

But Kihei Community Association President Mike Moran, who has testified multiple times before the commission, has said that the organization supports district planning commissions.

“Because we believe the current system is broken,” he said in an interview Friday.

“It should be people who live here making decisions for this own community,” he added.

Maui County Council Member Kelly King, who holds the South Maui residency seat, told the Charter Commission that she, too, supports the individual planning commissions.

She said she doesn’t think it would cost the county that much more, as it already has the Lanai and Molokai planning commissions, and the current planning commission will likely become the Central Maui planning commission. The current advisory boards in Hana, South Maui and Haiku-Paia could also be changed into planning commissions, which she said would “be much more efficient.” She called it a “practical solution” for the current “lack of representation” in certain areas on Maui on the current planning commission.

Other residents in written and oral testimony also urged the Charter Commission to reduce the number of boards and commissions in the county, especially as the current proposed amendments may tack on more boards and commissions.

This includes one proposal that would create an appointed community commission and elected community boards. Another would create an independent nomination board and change the method by which vacancies on boards and commissions are filled.

Some of the testimony came from staff in the Mayor’s Office who are tasked with overseeing the boards and commissions as well as staffing them.

Rochelle Ines, the boards and commissions secretary, wrote that it is already difficult to staff the current 33 boards and commissions in the county. Even with the “new norm” of virtual meetings, there is a higher level of resignations and removals for noncompliance of the attendance policy, Ines wrote. She suggested consolidating some boards and commissions based on productivity and duties.

Other charter amendments that have received support from various testifiers included one that would bifurcate the Department of Housing and Human Concerns.

Deputy Director of Housing and Human Concerns Linda Munsell said both the department and administration support the amendment. Munsell said it would cost around $500,000 to $600,000 for such a split, and that the cost includes hiring additional staff.

To view the draft report and schedules for the commission’s virtual meetings, visit mauicounty.gov/1791/Charter-Commission.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.