Maui Commission wants public input on 40 local government reforms

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’s political system and governs the daily lives of residents of Maui, Molokai and Lanai.

The decade-long process will culminate in November when voters will have the opportunity to approve or reject each proposed amendment to the charter in the 2022 ballot.

But first, the charter commission will pare down 40 proposed amendments into a more digestible slate to present to county voters.

On the table are proposals to rewrite the process for electing council members, abolish the Maui Planning Commission and require the county to operate as a bilingual government, which would mean that all official county notices should be published in Hawaiian, English and Hawaiian. interpretation services would be required for county meetings and events.

Kalana O Maui Building in Kahului
The Covid-19 pandemic has forced the Maui Charter Commission to solicit amendment proposals from residents online. The move to virtual has elicited an overwhelming response from citizens eager to fine-tune the county’s political system. Ludwig Laab/Civil Beat/2021

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

A reform, for example, would establish an independent selection commission to recommend candidates for the positions of county clerk, auditor, prosecutor and company attorney, instead of the mayor appointing any qualified candidate of his choice.

Another would require the Maui Police Commission to release public reports on investigations into accusations made by the public against the conduct of the police department or its officers, as well as the annual performance of the police chief.

“We put a lot on the plate,” Kuoha said, adding that community feedback during public hearings will help the commission focus on a smaller number of proposals to send for consideration by the county council. .

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

Among the most substantial proposals is an amendment that would abolish general elections in favor of nine representatives divided equally between three constituencies.

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

Currently, the Maui County Council has nine at-large members, with one seat guaranteed for Molokai and Lanai.

Proponents of the change say regional voting could help tackle the name recognition problem some political newcomers face when 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 council seat.

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

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

Another set of proposals would divide the Department of Housing and Human Affairs into separate agencies and create new departments for hearings officers, oiwi, or aboriginals, resources and ethics.

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

The 11-member Charter Commission began soliciting proposed amendments from the public last March and began the process of reviewing them in June.

The commission will seek comments during virtual public hearings from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday and Thursday. Maui County residents can also submit written testimony to the commission at [email protected]

At its next regular meeting scheduled for Feb. 8, the commission is expected to finalize its list of charter amendment issues in a draft report to be submitted to the Maui County Council on Feb. 18.

Coverage of Maui County by Civil Beat is funded in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.