Tuesday, January 22, 2002

Panel considers proposed
changes to Maui charter

Public hearings begin next week

By Gary T. Kubota

WAILUKU >> A commission is considering amending the Maui County Charter to extend Council members' elected terms of office and eliminate term limits.

The Maui Charter Commission is scheduled to hold a series of public hearings on the proposals and more than a dozen others starting next Tuesday.

The 11-member commission has the power to decide what, if any, proposed Charter amendments are placed on the November ballot.

Under a couple of proposals, Council members' terms of office would be changed to four from two years and the five-term Council limit would be lifted.

Commission Chairwoman Terryl Vencl said a number of residents have spoken in favor of the changes in elected terms at previous meetings.

"Everywhere we went, we heard it," Vencl said.

Vencl said people have been telling the commission that two years is too short a period for Council members to be in office and that too much time is spent campaigning for re-election.

The commission said others feel a four-year term is too long and would give an incumbent too much of an advantage over a challenger and too long an opportunity to abuse power.

Vencl said a number of residents have also been in favor of easing the requirements for initiative and recall in the county.

Under the Charter, people have 30 days to collect signatures of 20 percent of registered voters to have an initiative placed on the ballot or a vote to recall an elected county official.

The proposal would extend the signature collection period to 90 days and reduce the requirement to 10 percent of people who voted in the last general election.

Commissioners said under the proposed changes, citizens groups will have an easier time putting questions on the ballot, but the relaxed requirements could lead to abuse by special-interest groups.

Commissioners will also be hearing ideas about changing the "semiautonomous" county water board. The current board is able to set water rates only after obtaining approval from the mayor and Council. A mayoral veto may be overcome by a two-thirds majority of the Council.

The commission has proposed either making the board autonomous -- enabling it to set its rates -- or placing it under the county executive branch.

Vencl said some people have expressed frustration with the existing structure, where there are no clear lines of authority and accountability.

Former water board member Norma Piltz said she feels the board should have the power to set the rules and rates, just as other counties in Hawaii.

She said elected officials should stay out of water decisions.

"I just feel politics and water doesn't mix real well," she said.

Vencl said the proposals to be discussed at the hearings may seem "weighty" but also reflect what some people want to change in the Charter.

"While they may be controversial, they are things bugging the community," she said. "That's why we're here and that's why we're addressing them."

The commission is scheduled to submit proposed Charter amendments to the Maui Council by April 29.

Council members may return the proposed changes to the commission in 30 days or allow them to stand as is for the November vote.

The commission has the discretion of altering proposed amendments before they are submitted to the county clerk by the end of July.

Public hearings on Maui Charter proposals start next week

Star-Bulletin staff
WAILUKU >> Proposed amendments to the Maui Charter are scheduled to be the subject of a series of public hearings starting next Tuesday at the Lahaina Civic Center.

Other meetings will occur:

>> Feb. 6 at the Kihei Community Center.

>> Feb. 13 at Kaunakakai School cafetorium.

>> Feb. 20 at Hale Kupuna on Lanai.

>> Feb. 27 at the Paia Community Center.

>> March 6 at the Old Hana School cafeteria.

>> March 13 at the Wailuku Community Center.

>> March 20 at the Hannibal Tavares Center in Pukalani.

All meetings start at 6 p.m.

Copies of the proposal may be obtained through state public libraries, the Maui Office of Council Services on respective islands, the information center on the second floor of the County Building in Wailuku, and online under Charter Commission at boards.

E-mail to City Desk

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