Maui County voters will soon determine the fate of a competing pair of reforms that would create an independent nominating board to recruit and install residents on the county’s 33 boards and commissions.

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One of the contending proposals came from the Charter Commission, which is tasked every 10 years with reviewing the county’s constitutional document and finding potential ways to improve it. The County Council, meanwhile, put forward a slightly nuanced alternative to ask if voters want to create a larger nominating board whose members would be appointed under different rules.

Ranging from the Commission on Healing Solutions for Homelessness to the Board of Ethics, these diverse bodies play an advisory role in local government. Some also make binding decisions, such as the salary of elected officials or the winners and losers in tax bill disputes.

Proposals 10 and 10a also recommend other changes, such as allowing board and commission members to get paid.

Both proposals would eliminate the requirement that no more than a majority of a board or commission may belong to the same political party. Marina Riker/Civil Beat/2022

The Nov. 8 ballot question is one of 13 proposals to alter Maui County’s charter that voters will consider this election, marking the end of a once-a-decade process that grants citizens of Maui, Molokai and Lanai a chance to refine the political system that shapes their daily lives. Voters will also consider reforms geared at creating a stand-alone housing department, boosting access to public records and establishing a bilingual government.

The charter amendment setting up a nominating board aims to generate a selection process for board and commission members that’s less political and more focused on merit. Currently, the mayor or council recruit and evaluate applicants for boards and commissions on their own.

One issue that this change strives to fix is a trend of people vying for a seat on popular boards and commissions, such as the Planning Commission. Meanwhile, other boards and commissions struggle with recruitment.

“The idea behind the independent nominating board is that there would be a group of people who would be able to see the forest from the trees in a way that considers the need to populate all of the boards and commissions and considers geographic diversity and diversity of the industries that people work in,” said Lance Collins, who resigned as chairman of the Charter Commission last December to accept an appointment as a per diem district court judge.

Additionally, proposal 10, put forth by the charter commission, would have the nominating board fill the positions of county clerk, auditor, corporation counsel and prosecuting attorney, while proposal 10A, generated by the council, would charge the nominating board with filling the positions of corporation counsel and prosecuting attorney only. The council’s alternative would not require that the auditor and county clerk be vetted and recommended by the board.

Another distinction: In proposal 10, the nominating board’s nine-person membership would be appointed by the mayor and approved by council, which means there would need to be a consensus between the mayor and the council majority.

Proposal 10A would form a slightly larger 11-member nomination board with two mayoral appointees, who would not need council approval, and nine council appointees, who would not need mayoral approval. This procedure is most similar to the judicial selection process, in that it would allow the mayor and the council majority to select members without the other’s approval.

Beyond the issue of a nominating board, one of the dueling proposals addresses the matter of term limits for the county clerk.

The clerk currently serves without term limits, requiring the approval of the council every two years. Proposal 10 would limit the county clerk’s term at six years, while proposal 10a recommends no changes.

“The idea behind giving a fixed term to the clerk, in addition to having them independently nominated, is to really have the clerk be truly independent of the council and to have some stability of having a six-year term instead of having to be reinstated by the council every two years,” Collins explained.

Both proposals would eliminate the requirement that no more than a bare majority of a board or commission may belong to the same political party.

Enshrined in law long before voters made the mayor and council races nonpartisan in 1998, the requirement aims to ensure that both Republicans and Democrats could achieve fair representation on boards and commissions.

But today, political party affiliation has little significance at the county level. And in some cases, the requirement has complicated the process of filling seats on boards and commissions.

When the 11-member charter commission assembled last year, a majority of its members were registered Democrats, Collins said. The charter, however, prohibits the nine-member commission from having more than five representatives from the same political party.

So to come into compliance with the charter, several commissioners resigned from the Democratic Party, Collins said.

“It’s just sort of a thing that nobody’s paying attention to,” he said.

Another issue bundled into proposals 10 and 10a has to do with incentivizing residents to dedicate their time and expertise to serving on a board or commission.

Currently, there is no monetary compensation associated with serving on these bodies. But participation can be time-consuming. And it can be difficult to fill vacancies.

There were 63 vacancies during the most recent mass recruitment effort in November. It was a struggle to fill all the seats because there were fewer applicants than in years prior.

Both proposals would eliminate a prohibition on paying board and commission members — a tactic aimed at widening participation on boards and commissions, a civil service that, for some, is prohibitively time-consuming.

The Planning Commission, for example, typically meets without compensation for a full day twice a month during the work week. Additionally, members are expected to read and analyze lengthy documents in advance of meetings.

This level of time commitment limits the pool of volunteers who can afford to participate.

If voters approve proposal 10 or 10a, boards and commission members would remain uncompensated — for now. But the amendment would open the door to the council to pass new legislation to pay members of boards and commissions in the future.

Ipo Mossman, the county’s boards and commissions liaison, estimates there will be at least 77 vacancies next year when some members finish their terms on March 31.

He anticipates that recruitment could be difficult as applications have dropped off significantly since the Covid-19 pandemic. He said public interest in civic volunteer service has waned, and more people are dropping out mid-term.

A final difference between the dueling proposals: amendment 10 would take effect on July 1 to allow time for the appointment of the members of the nomination board. Amendment 10a would take effect immediately.

If voters approve question 10 on the ballot, it would cost taxpayers less than $100,000 to implement, according to a financial analysis by County Auditor Lance Taguchi.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by grants from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation and the Fred Baldwin Memorial Foundation.

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