Honolulu voters will decide this year if an office tasked with drafting legislative measures and providing legal advice for the City Council will get permanent status.

The Office of Council Services, created in 1973, is one of the council’s three legislative agencies unacknowledged in the city’s governing charter. That means if the council wanted to, it could abolish the agency.

Introduced by council member Adria Tupola, Charter Question No. 4  — as it’s called on mail-in ballots that will start landing in Honolulu mailboxes next week — would change that to officially recognize the office as a city government agency, with a staff of approximately 24 secretaries, legislative analysts and staff attorneys.

Honolulu City Council with in person session and a hand full of public in person testimony.
Part of the Office of Council Services’ duties include providing the council legal advice. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Office of Council Services Director James Williston, who has worked 36 years in the office, said the amendment would put the office on equal footing with the Office of City Clerk and the Office of the City Auditor.

“I’m turning 70 this year, and I would like to leave a legacy for my office that we’re not going to be disestablished,” Williston said.

The office is aimed at aiding the City Council in exercising its legislative power. Its duties include analyzing proposals and reports, writing and drafting bills and resolutions, reviewing and preparing the legislative budget, preparing land-use maps and providing legal research and advice to the nine-member council.

It also provides the council with legal services in case of disputes with the mayor’s administration, which is represented by the city’s Corporation Counsel.

However, the current language in the charter provides uncertainty by stating that “the council may establish an Office of Council Services.” Williston said that theoretically could enable the council to nix the office, although he said there’s no concrete threat the council will decide to do so.

Its responsibilities will remain the same if the amendment is approved.

Braedon Wilkerson, Tupola’s policy director, called the amendment a “housekeeping measure.”

“In a lot of ways, it’s to honor and acknowledge the oldest city sub-agency in terms of the legislative branch,” Wilkerson said. “Putting them in the charter solidifies them as a permanent branch. So basically, you have gained an equal status that they’re recognized like everyone else.”

Wilkerson said his responsibilities also include drafting amendments in measures and conserving policy, but the office performs most of the council’s duties.

The proposal to put the charter amendment on the ballot received no opposition in testimony and was passed by the Honolulu City Council 9-0.

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