A pair of public hearings this week will help the Maui Charter Commission refine a list of proposed amendments to the document that defines the responsibilities of the county political system and governs the daily lives of residents of Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

Maui County locator mapThe once-a-decade process will culminate in November when voters have the chance to approve or reject each proposed charter amendment on the 2022 election ballot.

But first the charter commission will reduce 40 amendment proposals into a more digestible list to put before county voters.

On the table are proposals to rewrite the election process for council members, abolish the Maui Planning Commission and require the county to operate as a bilingual government, which means that all official county notices would need to be issued in Hawaiian and English and Hawaiian language interpretive services would be required for county meetings and events.

Kalana O Maui Bldg in Kahului
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced the Maui Charter Commission to solicit amendment proposals from residents online. Going virtual led to an overwhelming response from citizens eager to refine the county political system. Ludwig Laab/Civil Beat/2021

Many of the proposals seek to strike “the right balance between the mayor, the council and the community voice,” said Commissioner Keoni Kuoha.

One reform, for example, would establish an Independent Selection Commission to recommend nominees for county clerk, auditor, prosecutor and corporation counsel, as opposed to having the mayor appoint any qualified candidate he or she chooses.

Another would require the Maui Police Commission to issue public reports on investigations into charges brought by the public against the conduct of the police department or its officers, as well as the police chief’s annual performance.

“We put a lot on the plate,” said Kuoha, adding that community feedback during the public hearings will help the commission hone in on a smaller number of proposals to send to County Council for review.

“There still needs to be, I think, an evaluation to make sure that we aren’t throwing a bunch of different solutions at the same problems,” he said.

Among the most consequential proposals is an amendment that would do away with at-large elections in favor of nine representatives split evenly among three districts.

Residents would only vote for representatives to fill the three council seats in their district, and a seat would be guaranteed for the county’s most remote regions: Molokai, Lanai and Hana.

Currently the Maui County Council includes nine at-large members, with a guaranteed seat for both Molokai and Lanai.

Proponents of the change say regional voting could help combat the name recognition problem some political newcomers face campaigning against entrenched elected officials.

The amendment is also designed to help take money out of council races, lowering the barriers to launching a competitive campaign for a seat on the council.

One of the most significant proposals recommended by the commission would abolish the Maui Planning Commission and establish in its place a planning commission for each community plan area.

Since Molokai and Lanai already have their own planning commissions, the proposal would mostly affect Maui, where there are six regions with separate community plans that guide the area’s character and inform policy decisions about land use, parks and infrastructure.

Another series of proposals would split the Department of Housing and Human Concerns into separate agencies and establish new departments for hearings officers, ethics, and oiwi, or native resources.

Maui County currently has 32 boards and commissions, but that number would increase to 50 if all of the amendment proposals being considered were to be approved by voters.

The 11-member charter commission started soliciting amendment proposals from the public last March and began the process of reviewing them in June.

The commission will solicit feedback at virtual public hearings from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday. Residents of Maui County can also submit written testimony to the commission at Charter.Commission@mauicounty.gov.

At its next regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 8, the commission is expected to finalize its list of charter amendment questions in a preliminary report due for submission to the Maui County Council on Feb. 18.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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