West Siders suggest changes to Maui County Charter

Lahaina News
January 6, 2011

LAHAINA — The West Maui Charter Working Group recently released its final report offering six proposals for amending the Maui County Charter during the upcoming Charter Review Commission.

The six proposals concern County Council district voting, county management, elected community boards, abolishing the Liquor Control Adjudication Board, creating a county hearings officer post, and establishing an independent legal adviser to the council and county boards/commissions.

Available online at www.westmauicharter.org, the report gives rationales and historical background for each proposal, as well as suggested language changes to the charter itself.

The working group is comprised of residents of the West Maui community from diverse professional, political and social backgrounds.

Gordon Cockett, Dr. George Lavenson, Dr. Flo Wiger, Nell Woods and other members reviewed the Charter of the County of Maui to determine if changes would be beneficial to the West Maui community and propose specific changes:

1) District Voting: Changing the composition of the Maui County Council to nine single-member districts and creating a Decennial Apportionment Commission. "Nine Single-Member Districts follow the statewide trend currently in use in Honolulu and the Big Island. Single-Member Districts would allow lower electioneering costs, better accountability of council members to voters, and permits every area of the county to have a population-proportionate influence in the election of the council," the report argues.

2) County Manager: Changing administration of the county to a county manager; changing mayor to ceremonial head, nonvoting chair of the council. "County Manager allows a professional administrator to run the county and ensures that a professional, well-qualified individual, that is politically impartial, carries out the management of the county; the Mayor would become the ceremonial head of the county and preside over the council as its nonvoting chair," the report reasons.

3) Elected Community Boards: Changing planning and variance process to include elected community boards for every community plan area on Maui, Molokai and Lanai; Planning Commissions become directly elected. Rationale: "Elected Community Boards would allow greater community participation in the planning and government processes and would allow community plan areas to have better direct relationship to the composition of the Planning Commissions and the Variances and Appeals Board."

4) Abolish the Liquor Control Adjudication Board and transfer its function to the Liquor Control Commission. The panel notes, "Abolishing the Liquor Adjudication Board would save the money associated with the costs of having the board while being unlikely to significantly vary current practices."

5) Create an independent office of county hearings officers to conduct all contested case proceedings and make findings and recommendations to officials, boards and commissions. Rationale: "Creating County Hearings Officers would eliminate county expenditures for contract hearings officers and the expenditure of time of volunteer boards and commissions, who generally do not have the legal or professional background to efficiently conduct contested cases. This proposal is also likely to significantly limit litigation by dissatisfied parties to contested case proceedings."

6) Create legislative attorney and independent counsel for separate legal advice, counsel and representation for County Council and boards and commissions. "Separate Attorneys for the Council and Boards and Commissions would ensure that the Council and Boards and Commissions, which regularly have divergent legal interests from the County Administration, would have regular access to independent advice free of the appearance of conflicts. It would also dramatically limit the need for the hiring of independent counsel and can be fully funded by decreasing the size of the Department of Corporation Counsel, since some of its functions are being transferred," the report states.

The working group received funding and technical assistance from the North Beach West Maui Benefit Fund.

After determining that changes would be beneficial, the group met over the course of a year. Members spent the time between meetings engaging in independent research and discussions with members of the West Maui community and of the broader county community.

The working group acknowledged the assistance of attorney and political scientist Lance D. Collins, who served as a nonvoting reporter of the group's decisions and the group's secretary.

Original Article

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