A strong majority of Oahu voters — 76.7% to 15.2% — favor limiting the Honolulu prosecutor to two four-year terms, according to the first round of votes announced late Tuesday evening.

The charter amendment ballot question is one of four before voters in the City and County of Honolulu this fall.

Voters also appear in favor of establishing a Youth Commission under the city managing director, 54.2% to 33.6%.

There is also support for giving the Honolulu Ethics Commission more control over its budget  — voters say “yes” 48.2% to 40%. But charter questions need to get more than 50% of the vote to pass.

The same goes for a related charter question that would grant the same agency more flexibility in hiring and retaining staff. That measure is favored 52.3% to 34.6%.

Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro responds to Deedy trial during presser.
Honolulu Prosecuting Attorney Keith Kaneshiro is currently under criminal investigation. Voters on Tuesday strongly leaned toward limiting the position to just two four-year terms of office. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The release of the first round of votes was delayed four hours because voters were still in line at the two voting centers on Oahu. The tally represents about 65% of all votes cast.

Unlike the office of Honolulu mayor and City Council seats, the prosecutor’s office currently has no term limits. Just two people have held the job since 1988, although a new prosecutor will take office in early 2021.

The term-limit question was proposed by Councilman Ron Menor through Resolution 19-35. It warned of prosecutors becoming “entrenched in power and thereby in a position to abuse the powers entrusted to them by the voters.”

While the resolution made no mention of the current prosecutor, Keith Kaneshiro, he was the obvious inspiration. Kaneshiro has been on paid leave since last year, as he is a subject in a federal criminal investigation.

A Civil Beat/HNN Poll last month found that 71% of Oahu voters favored term limits for the office.

Tommy Waters1.
City Councilman Tommy Waters introduced a resolution in 2019 that proposed the Youth Commission. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The Youth Commission, should that charter question prevail, would have 15 members between the ages of 14 to 24 at the time of appointment. The mayor would appoint six commissioners while each of the nine council members would appoint one member each.

The commission would also have the ability to hire staff if it feels it is necessary to do its work.

City Councilman Tommy Waters introduced the 2019 resolution that proposed the commission. The resolution explains that creating such a commission is a recognition of the important role that younger residents are playing in public life, especially on issues like preserving the environment, mitigating against climate change and controlling tobacco use.

The Honolulu Ethics Commission, the government’s watchdog, has had a rocky tenure in recent years, marked by clashes between the Caldwell administration and the commission’s previous director.

The resolutions granting the commission more control over its budget and staff make no direct mention of that history.

But both resolutions — the former from Waters, the latter from Menor — note that the commission is responsible for ensuring that city employees demonstrate the “highest standards of ethical conduct” so that the public may have “trust and confidence” in the integrity of government as well as in registered lobbyists.

Both resolutions were supported by both the commission’s current chair and executive director.

The budget question, should it pass, would allow the commission to make its own financial decisions autonomously from Corporation Counsel, the city’s legal team to which the Ethics Commission is administratively attached. The City Council would still have to sign off on that budget.

The staffing question, should it pass, would permit the commission to exempt its staff from restrictive classification requirements and to set pay levels.

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