Not too many people are taking advantage so far of an opportunity that only comes along once every 10 years.

Oahu residents have until Oct. 31 to submit proposals to the Honolulu Charter Commission for improving the city and county government. As of Friday only six proposals have been submitted, but the commission chair still anticipates that the ultimate response will be similar to 2005, when 180 proposals were made.

The commission sent 12 of those proposals on to voters in 2006, and eight of them were approved, including measures to make bikeways a priority; mandate the start of a curbside recycling program; allocate a percentage of annual property tax revenues to land conservation and affordable housing;  and allow the Ethics Commission to impose civil fines on elected officers for ethics violations.

Honolulu Hale city council mayor caldwell. 28 jan 2015. photograph Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Changes could be coming to Honolulu Hale, based on the work of the Charter Commission. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Every 10 years, the commission is formed to investigate how the local government operates and explore ways to improve it. During this period, the public can submit proposed changes to the City Charter, in essence the constitution that lays out its structure.

“I think that there are people out there putting proposals together, but we haven’t had direct participation yet,” said Jesse Souki, commission chair.

The Charter Commission is comprised of 13 members – six appointed by the mayor, six by the City Council and one jointly — picked by the mayor but requiring the council’s approval.

The all-volunteer commission will review the proposals and decide which ones to place on the 2016 ballot.

This year, one proposal already received asks for more City Council oversight of the Board of Water to decrease water main breaks. Another would allot money from the Affordable Housing Fund to help people earning 60 percent or less of the household median income.

Members of the public, city officials and commissioners can submit proposals.

Since July, the commission has held public meetings on climate and environmental issues, planning and development, and public transportation. So far, they have been sparsely attended, but that may change with meetings coming up focused on the controversial Honolulu Police Commission and fees charged for rides on the bus and the future rail project.

The commission is also working with city agencies to assess the effectiveness of the current government structure.

“This is actually the general public’s shot at having a direct involvement.” — Jesse Souki, Charter Commission chair

During the next meeting — which is scheduled for Thursday at 3:30 p.m. at the Honolulu Hale committee meeting room — the public will have the opportunity to provide comments on the Honolulu Police Commission and Fire Commission, Souki said. Members of both commissions have been invited to attend.

One question to be addressed is whether the Honolulu Police Commission is “properly policing the police,” Souki added.

The Police Commission has come under fire because of perceptions that it’s soft on police discipline. And even when it determines police officer misconduct has occurred, under the current structure the Police Department can ignore its findings.

Another meeting is scheduled Oct. 15, but the commission hasn’t chosen a topic yet. Souki said he wants to hold one or more meetings with the Board of Water Supply, the Ethics Commission and Planning Commission before the Oct. 31 proposal deadline.

He also wants to hold another meeting on public transportation to figure out how to coordinate fares between the bus and the rail.

The public can also submit ideas for topics to discuss at the meetings, he said.

“Participation is not just submitting a proposal, but coming to a meeting and listening to what we’re talking about,” Souki said. “This is actually the general public’s shot at having a direct involvement.”

The charter review process gives residents a unique opportunity to directly influence how government operates, Souki said.

Beyond this once-a-decade process, there are only two other ways to amend the charter – the mayor can submit amendments, or the City Council can place amendments on the ballot during years that the charter isn’t under review.

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