A once-a-decade process that grants citizens of Maui, Molokai and Lanai the chance to redefine the responsibilities of their local government has yielded 11 charter amendment questions slated to appear on the November ballot.

Maui County locator mapThe surviving amendments would require Maui County to operate as a bilingual government, absorb Kalaupapa into its jurisdiction and increase access to council meetings and public records. The proposals have one last hurdle to cross later this month before their fate falls to voters.

Among the most consequential proposals is an amendment that would split the Department of Housing and Human Concerns into two agencies and create a Housing Development Advisory Board to advise the county housing director. The amendment also seeks to require the county Housing Department to establish a liaison to the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

Another sweeping proposal would establish a bilingual county government, which would mean that all official county notices would need to be issued in Hawaiian and English. It would also create a department of oiwi resources to manage Hawaiian cultural resources.

The Maui Meadows neighborhood faced severe flooding during recent storms.
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. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2022

A reform geared at promoting transparency in law enforcement would require the police chief to inform the police commission, and provide a written report upon request, when the chief disagrees with the commission’s findings related to the conduct of the police department or its officers and employees.

The whittled down list of 11 amendment proposals was formed over the course of more than a year, during which the Maui Charter Commission entertained more than 135 proposals, held nearly 30 public meetings, considered copious amounts of public feedback and received guidance from numerous state and county agencies.

Taken as a whole, the proposals seek to promote government ethics, improve transparency in law enforcement and boost access to public records.

Reforms Target Government Ethics And Transparency

The content of the proposals is far-reaching.

In an attempt at promoting government ethics, one reform would require appointees and board and commission members to file a financial disclosure statement. It would also make it law that county officers and employees are prohibited from using their position for self-enrichment.

Another would require the County Council to conduct its meetings so that rural residents of Hana, Lanai and Molokai can participate remotely. It would require county employees to proactively assist members of the public who wish to access county records and “make every effort” to minimize fees and charges for public records.

There’s a reform that would create an independent nomination board for county boards and commissions, as well as the corporation counsel and prosecuting attorney. The proposal would also allow board and commission members to be compensated.

Administrative heads nominated by the mayor would need to immediately vacate office if the county council denies his or her appointment, according to one proposal.

Another proposal would prohibit the county clerk and deputy county clerk from participating in politics.

The Next Step

Last month the nine-member charter commission vetted a series of alternative proposals put forth by the Council Committee on Government Relations, Ethics, and Transparency, accepting seven of them and rejecting three.

Now the council has until April 22 to retract any of its three alternative proposals that were shot down by the charter commission.

These include proposals that would establish a new department for oiwi resources, require the police chief to submit a formal report upon the request of the police commission when there’s a disagreement over the conduct of the department or an employee and create an Independent Nomination Board for county boards and commissions, as well as the corporation counsel and prosecuting attorney.

If the council decides against retracting one of these rejected proposals, then the charter commission and the council will have competing proposals on the ballot for these topics. Recalled proposals will not appear on the ballot.

Charter amendment retractions will be discussed at the April 22 council meeting.

“I give them an A for doing a very effective job,” County Council Chairwoman Alice Lee said of the year of work that charter commission members put into the process. “Where we differ, I don’t believe those differences are major.”

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

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