Council shrinks another member

  • Rebecca Villegas

HILO — Behold the incredible shrinking County Council.

With former Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha officially off the council upon his election Tuesday to the state Senate, and Puna Councilwoman Jen Ruggles not participating in council meetings or legislation because of her concerns about the Hawaiian Kingdom, the nine-member body is effectively down to seven members.

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That presents a bigger hurdle to pass controversial bills, including a vacation rental regulation measure coming up later this month that Kanuha co-sponsored. Under county charter, bills and resolutions require at least five votes to pass, even if four votes is a majority of seven active council members.

Certain other bills that may not be controversial, such as budget amendments like the money for the Kealakehe Regional Park, require a two-thirds vote of the entire membership — six votes — and could fail if more than one council member votes no or is absent.

County officials on Wednesday were studying their best course of action dealing with an instance where state and county law don’t mesh in a seamless fashion. The state Constitution says an individual cannot simultaneously hold two offices.

Yet council members’ terms end on the first Monday of December after the election. And state legislators’ positions become effective on Election Day.

“There’s not a lot of precedent for this and we want to do it right,” Deputy County Clerk Jon Henricks, who hasn’t experienced a similar issue during his more than a decade in county government, said Wednesday.

Kanuha, who on Wednesday submitted his resignation from the council retroactive to 11:59 p.m. Monday, praised his council colleagues.

“It has truly been an honor representing the community I was born and raised in alongside colleagues who also put their heart and soul into working for our island. I know the county is in good hands,” Kanuha said. “I look forward to working with the council and the administration to keep moving Kona and Ka‘u forward in my new role as state senator.”

The county charter states, “when any vacancy occurs in the county council, the remaining members of the council shall appoint as a successor a person with the requisite qualifications to fill the vacancy.”

If the council fails to fill a vacancy within 60 days, the chairman has the authority to pick a successor, under the charter.

With less than a month until a new council will be sworn in, Council Chairwoman Valerie Poindexter doesn’t plan to try to fill the vacancy. The council has committee hearings Nov. 19 and a council meeting Nov. 20, the last meetings before a new council is seated Dec. 3.

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The logical short-term successor would have been Kona Councilwoman-elect Rebecca Villegas, who won the seat Tuesday. But Poindexter doesn’t think the county should go that route.

“I don’t think it’s fair to put her in this situation of having to legislate when she hasn’t even set up her office and chosen her staff yet,” Poindexter said.