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When Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlislevetoed a bill last month that would ban business activity in Kailua and Kalama Beach parks he was almost resigned to the fact that it was a pointless gesture.
The City Council had already voted 7-2 to pass Bill 11, which means the contentious new law that caused quite a stir in windward Oahu already had the two-thirds majority needed to override a Carlisle veto.
“Given the margin, I am aware that my veto may be overridden; in fact I anticipate the council to do so,” Carlisle wrote in his veto message to the council.
But the mayor might not need to be so gloomy. Of the seven council members who supported the bill, three did so with reservations. While that’s still a “yes,” it’s also an indicator to Carlisle that they could be swayed by a compelling argument.
There’s also history to consider. Since 2004, Honolulu’s mayors have vetoed 13 council-approved bills, not including line item vetoes. That figure also includes the veto of Bill 11, which is expected to be voted on by the council Wednesday.
Of the dozen vetoes that have been voted on, eight have been overturned, two weren’t voted on before the statutory deadline, one bill simply was set aside and one override attempt failed. That means that since 2004, vetoes have had a 25 percent survival rate inside Honolulu Hale.
Carlisle’s record isn’t so good. He’s 0 for 3 in his two years in office.
Former Mayor Mufi Hannemann has fared much better. Between 2006 and 2009 Hannemann vetoed five bills, of which only one was overturned. Two of those, of course, involved the council missing the deadline. And the third wasn’t addressed once the bill stagnated and was “postponed indefinitely” by the council.
The veto that the council was unable to override involved a bill that would prohibit text messaging and playing video games while driving. Hannemann applauded the council for the foresight, but noted in his veto message that it was premature because Honolulu police and prosecutors said the law would be “impossible to enforce.”
Council Member Ikaika Anderson, who represents Kailua and introduced Bill 11, said he expects to have the six votes necessary to override Carlisle’s veto. There’s also an unspoken rule that council members should defer to their colleagues’ expertise when a bill involves that person’s district, Anderson says.
“Not always, but often times council members will defer to the council member in the district regarding legislation that affects their district,” Anderson said. “The general consensus amongst council members is that each individual council member knows his or her district best. There are some exceptions, but usually that’s the case.”
One example of the council bucking the status quo, Anderson said, is when council member Romy Cachola was the main thrust behind the push to remove more than $20 million from the city’s budget for a new digester at the Sand Island Wastewater Treatment Plant. Because the impact of that decision would extend beyond Cachola’s district, Anderson said it was important for the rest of the council to weigh-in.
“The council saw it as an issue of island-wide importance, not just the district,” Anderson said.
This is why the council largely ignores Council Member Tom Berg’s cries to close the Waimanalo Gulch Sanitary Landfill. Similarly, as the city searches for a new landfill location, the concerns of individual council members whose district might be the preferred trash-dumping site will have to be weighed against the interests of the entire island.
Anderson doesn’t consider Bill 11 to be of island-wide importance since it is specific to two beach parks in his district.
Council Member Nestor Garcia tends to agree that many council members side with their colleagues on the issues that take place in their districts. But, he said, “we’re supposed to be making up our own minds on how we vote on that issue.”
Even though he voted for Bill 11 with reservations, on Tuesday he didn’t anticipate swinging his vote in the other direction. He also believed the council would override Carlisle’s veto in almost the same fashion in which it approved it, 7-2.
“It’s a serious matter when we have to consider an override,” Garcia said. “Most people think that we do these things because of politics or because we don’t get along with the mayor. But this is a serious matter, and I hope my colleagues feel that way too.”
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