Years of service on the Honolulu Zoning Board of Appeals left Rick Tsujimura questioning whether the board should even exist. Its processes seemed redundant to him, and ultimately a waste of city resources and taxpayer dollars.

Now a member of the Charter Commission, Tsujimura has brought his concern about the effectiveness of the city’s boards and commissions to the Nov. 8 ballot.

“I thought it would be prudent of the county to review the boards and commissions,” Tsujimura said. “If there is no public necessity to have these boards and commissions, why keep them?”

R. Brian Tsujimura Charter commission at Honolulu Hale meetings.
Rick Tsujimura at a Honolulu Charter Commission meeting. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

His original idea along those lines evolved into Charter Amendment 12, which proposes that many city boards and commissions “shall be periodically evaluated and reviewed” to determine whether their statements of purpose should be “retained, amended, or repealed.”

The review process would apply to 18 city boards and commissions. It excludes the Board of Water Supply, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation, and all bodies mandated by state or federal law.

The amendment contains no details about how this review process would work, how often it would happen or who would conduct it. Some people say the vague wording is appropriate for a charter change, and if it’s approved the details could be established by the City Council.

“If there is no public necessity to have these boards and commissions, why keep them?” — Rick Tsujimura, Charter Commission member

Others — Tsujimura included — feel that as it’s now worded the amendment could easily be ignored. It won’t change anything, some say, because they City Council is already capable of initiating a review process.

Donna Wong, a member of the Kailua Neighborhood Board, is concerned the mandate would only be acted upon in response to political motivation.

“If somebody has a special interest to get rid of a board or a commission, or reduce its effectiveness,” a review process will proceed, but otherwise it might never happen, she said.

Wong was speaking for herself, not the board.

But some members of the Charter Commission argued the amendment would in fact lead to a city review process.

“The charter is supposed to be general,” said John Waihee, a commission member and former governor. If the amendment is approved, the City Council would likely create an ordinance to establish the logistics.

David Rae Charter Commissioner at Honolulu Hale meeting.
David Rae is a former lobbyist and the current chairman of the City Charter Commission. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“I don’t think they’re going to ignore us putting this in the charter,” said commission member David Rae. “I am quite confident the Council will implement it.”

Rae said HART and the Board of Water Supply are excluded from the proposed review process because they are semi-autonomous.

But Tsujimura said HART was excluded because he didn’t want to open the opportunity to a “backdoor referendum” on HART that could jeopardize the completion of the rail project.

Hawaii Kai Neighborhood Board chair Natalie Iwasa agrees boards and commissions should be periodically reviewed, but thinks the process should include HART.

“I think if any board needs to be reviewed it’s HART because of all the issues that have happened over the years with respect to rail,” she said.

Charter Commission members Rae, Waihee, Tsujimura and Cheryl Soon all said they had no particular board or commission in mind when creating the amendment. In fact, none could provide a list of the boards and commissions that would be subject to the proposed review process — although the mayor’s office did.

“We never went though and made a comprehensive list and said ‘in, out, in, out,” Soon said. “We left it to the council.”

But some members of the city’s neighborhood boards and the Neighborhood Commission feel the proposal is an extension of an earlier one to get rid of the neighborhood board system.

The Neighborhood Commission is a nine-member board that oversees the 33 neighborhood boards and is charged with increasing community participation in government decision-making.

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Its members voted unanimously to oppose the charter amendment.

Chairman Russell Yamanoha said the Neighborhood Commission took up the issue strictly as it applied to the commission, not considering other commissions and boards. He said members felt there’s already enough oversight of the commission.

According to the Neighborhood Commission’s rules, anyone can ask for a review of a commission activity or action or that of a current commissioner. In addition, Yamanoha said the commission was audited before the current nine members were on the board.

“When it’s a mandated review, it’s a substantive thing,” he said of the expenses and resources that would be put into a review process. “There’s a committee. Maybe the city and county has to hire someone, whatever it is. We thought, in our case, those resources could be better used elsewhere.”

Betty Lou Kam, chairwoman of the Mayor’s Commission on Culture and the Arts, said she believes a periodic review is healthy and wouldn’t have any concerns with what the charter amendment proposes. She was speaking as an individual, not as a representative of that commission.

The 11-member Commission on Culture and the Arts was created in 1978 to preserve and promote culture and the arts throughout the city. Kam said the commission is reviewed on an ongoing basis through its public meetings.

“I think every group that represents a specific interest for the city and county should be open and should be available for periodic review,” she said. “I mean that’s how you keep ideas fresh and that’s how you keep an agency productive.”

Honolulu Ethics Commission chairwoman Victoria Marks said the seven-member commission has not yet discussed the proposed charter amendment and will keep her individual thoughts about it to herself, but she notes that she had no objection to a successful City Council resolution that requests the city auditor to look into the commission’s management and performance.

Here is a list of the boards and commissions that would be affected by the proposed charter amendment, according to the mayor’s office.

  • Board of Parks and Recreation
  • Building Board of Appeals
  • Citizens Advisory Commission on Civil Defense
  • Civil Service Commission
  • Commission on Culture and the Arts
  • Ethics Commission
  • Ethics Board of Appeals
  • Fire Commission
  • Grants In Aid Advisory Commission
  • Historic Preservation Advisory Committee
  • Mayor’s Committee for People with Disabilities
  • Neighborhood Commission
  • Planning Commission
  • Police Commission
  • Real Property Tax Assessment Board of Review I, II, and III
  • Salary Commission
  • Transportation Commission
  • Zoning Board of Appeals

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