Amendment votes vital to city's future
WHEN city voters go to the polls Nov. 7, they will decide on important changes to the document that sets forth the aims, principles and governmental organization of Honolulu.|
THE 12 proposed amendments to the City Charter were culled from nearly 100 submissions after more than a year of review.
Unlike propositions placed on ballots by "special interest" petition drives, as is done in California, the proposed changes came about through two dozen public meetings and hearings. These were conducted by a volunteer commission whose 13 members were appointed by the City Council and the mayor, and included a diverse group of citizens from businesswomen and lawyers to professors and environmentalists.
The commission's work is done; now it is up to voters. The ballot questions and the Star-Bulletin's recommendations follow.
QUESTIONS 1 AND 2: NO
These related proposals are tricky. The commission should not have allowed the simple question of whether to eliminate the current two-term limit for City Council members to be presented this way.
Question 1 asks if Council term limits should be "replaced" by alternatives listed in Question 2. This makes a brazen assumption that voters want a change in term limits since Alternative A in Question 2 would wipe out term limits altogether and Alternative B would increase the two terms now allowed to three.
To confuse matters further, both alternatives throw in a red-herring issue of removing staggered terms, ostensibly because Council districts could, at some point, be redrawn if Oahu's population shifts.
Voters should say no to Question 1. If Question 1 is rejected, there would be no need to choose the alternatives in Question 2, but if voters choose yes on Question 1, Alternative B would be preferable, since a limit in terms would remain in place.
QUESTION 3: YES
This amendment would dedicate 1 percent of the city's annual property tax revenue to fund land conservation and affordable housing. This is not a tax increase.
Having these funds would provide the city with a steady resource the Council and the mayor could appropriate for projects such as public-private partnerships for low-income rentals and to leverage federal dollars that now bypass the city. The funds also would free the city from having to hunt for money when land deemed worthy of public conservation becomes available, as happened with Waimea Valley.
Moreover, the proposal affirms a quality-of-life principle for Oahu that both Maui and Kauai have already established and that Big Island voters are being asked to approve this year.
QUESTION 4: YES
Oahu's growing population and its single landfill make reducing its stream of waste a necessity. This amendment would include curbside recycling in the duties and functions of the city administration. Officials have balked at providing the service, saying it would increase costs, but costs can be recovered by selling material to recycling businesses and through other programs. In addition, one of the current twice-a-week pickups could easily be devoted to recyclables with little effect on residents.
QUESTION 5: YES
Currently, the Ethics Commission can only recommend that disciplinary action be taken against elected officials who violate ethics rules. Approval of this proposal would authorize the commission to impose civil fines on violators. The City Council would set the amount of fines.
QUESTION 6: NO
The amendment would allow city elections with only two candidates to be conducted in the general election rather than in the primary election. There appears to be no essential reason to make this change.
QUESTION 7: NO
Pay raises for elected officials and other high-ranking employees automatically would be adopted if this amendment were approved. Current practice requires the City Council to reject Salary Commission recommendations, which forces Council members to justify increases -- or unlikely decreases -- for themselves and other administrators. The public will lose a measure of accountability if this proposal passes.
QUESTION 8: YES
The state with the 11th-highest pedestrian fatality rate in the nation and the highest rate among elderly residents has reason to be concerned about road safety in its urban core. As the most populous island, a guiding value for Oahu should be to make Honolulu congenial to pedestrians -- residents and tourists alike. Further, for health, energy conservation and environmental reasons, and because of traffic congestion, bicycling should be encouraged as a means of transportation. Adding duties to the Department of Transportation Services that would promote these efforts makes good sense.
QUESTION 9: YES
Notorious and continuous problems within the Liquor Commission require that it have accountability and oversight. This amendment would exempt the agency's administrator, deputy administrator and secretary from civil service protections and allow removal of unsatisfactory employees.
QUESTION 10: YES
This amendment would specify duties, powers and functions already being provided under the director of Emergency Services and the fire chief to include ocean safety, emergency medical services and hazardous materials.
QUESTION 11: YES
Currently, capital budget appropriations for public improvements, land acquisition and planning and engineering studies lapse six months after the end of the fiscal year in which it was allocated. This proposal would change the duration to 12 months, which would reduce paperwork and other red tape.
QUESTION 12: YES
This catch-all amendment requires public notices to be distributed by electronic medium as well as other methods, corrects an unconstitutional ban on political campaigning by members of the police department, removes a requirement that Social Security numbers be included on petitions for recall and charter amendments, and other "housekeeping" fixes to correct omissions and to conform the charter to federal law.