Suit questions Big Isle
At issue is if a term limit amendment
will restrict a councilman
HILO » Big Islanders voted in 1996 to limit the number of terms a person could serve on the Hawaii County Council, but they did not say when the change became effective.
The vagueness of that 1996 amendment to the County Charter has led to a pending lawsuit that attempts to block Council Chairman Jimmy Arakaki from running for another term. Arakaki has served on the Council since 1990.
The first court hearing on the matter is set for Monday before Circuit Judge Glenn Hara. Since the primary election is four weeks away, the three Big Islanders who sued to block Arakaki's candidacy are asking Hara for speedy consideration of the matter.
The three plaintiffs are Ed Clark and Matthew Binder, identified as voters, and Ollie "Ole" Fulks, who is running against Arakaki in the nonpartisan Council election.
The 1996 vote limited Council members to four consecutive two-year terms. But did those eight years start in 1996 and end this year, or in 1998, ending in 2006?
County Clerk Al Konishi, who is an attorney, and county Corporation Counsel Lincoln Ashida have both issued legal opinions saying the clock started in 1998 and continues to 2006.
Arakaki's attorney Brian De Lima, who agrees with the two county lawyers, say there were no term limits when Arakaki ran in 1996, so limits started in 1998.
Robert Kim and David Kimo Frankel, attorneys for the plaintiffs, respond that the County Council law proposing the charter change was approved in 1995, and Arakaki voted for the term limits.
They argue that the Charter change went into effect on Nov. 25, 1996, when election officials certified the vote in favor of it. Arakaki's term began after that, when he was sworn into office in December 1996, knowing there were limits, they say.
If the court does declare Arakaki barred from running, he might still get more votes than the little-known Fulks because Arakaki's name is already on the printed ballot.
In that case, Fulks would not win by default, but rather a vacancy would be declared in the 3rd Council District (part of Hilo and Keaau), said County Clerk Konishi. The other Council members would then select someone to fill the vacancy.