Start with a new hands-off mayor. Throw in a few pinches of inexperienced Honolulu City Council members. Let sit for 12 months. Then serve.
The finished product isn’t too filling.
Honolulu politicians had an interesting, if not productive, year. We’ve revealed our list of the best stories from the Honolulu beat, and of course there was APEC to enjoy. But the city had a slow 2011, legislatively speaking, especially considering non-election years are supposed to be when the real work gets done.
“It was a quiet year, there weren’t as many bills introduced,” Council member Ann Kobayashi told Civil Beat this week. “I guess because we have a new mayor and some new Council members.”
Kobayashi is one of the few political veterans on the Council. A majority of the members — five out of nine — were elected to their first terms in 2010, including Chair Ernie Martin. Some weren’t just new to their jobs but also had little or no previous legislative experience at all.
That inexperience turned out to be a challenge. The learning curve required members to juggle constituents’ needs, forge working relationships and test how far rookie Mayor Peter Carlisle could be pushed.
From start to end in 2011, members struggled to find their stride.
UPDATE Their reluctance to stick their necks out too far before getting a lay of the land was obvious to Council observers. Members introduced just 60 bills in 2011 and passed just 31 ordinances, the quietest year by both metrics in nearly a decade of legislative data available on the city’s website.
The dearth of proposals can’t be entirely chalked up to inexperience.
Kobayashi introduced only three bills, while Garcia and Romy Cachola, the longest-sitting Council members, introduced four and two, respectively. A Civil Beat analysis shows the breakdown for all nine members.
There was a bill to limit political signs on private property, but that didn’t generate all that much heat before it died quietly. There were proposed fee changes for parking and golf courses and driver’s licenses. There were zoning changes and planning document updates (more on that in our look forward to 2012).
UPDATE There was the council’s bizarre handling of a controversial measure to subsidize a private scrap yard. After passing a law to eliminate the subsidy, council members passed a conflicting law to reinstate it. When the mayor vetoed that reinstatement, the council overrode his veto, just six weeks after passing the initial law to eliminate the discount.
When asked about the Council’s 2011 work, Garcia first pointed to the fireworks ban passed a year earlier before correcting himself. He struggled to name other accomplishments before settling on the budget he helped shepherd through as chair. Though one is passed every year, Garcia said balancing a budget in tough economic times without “exorbitant” tax increases should earn the Council a notch on its collective belt.
Kobayashi too had positive things to say about the Council’s work in 2011, pointing to efforts to shine the light on city operations, particularly the rail project.
“There was a lot more accountability. There was more transparency,” she said.
Referring to her new colleagues, she said, “They’ve been really great, and we’ve been working hard together to improve the image of the Council with more transparency, and I think it’s happened.”
Check back soon to see what you can expect from the Honolulu City Council in 2012.