Charter amendment tweaking county musical team not likely to make November ballot

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HILO — With a roomful of supporters at their back, former Mayor Harry Kim and former Senior Deputy Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela pleaded Thursday with the County Council to keep the county band in the county charter.

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HILO — With a roomful of supporters at their back, former Mayor Harry Kim and former Senior Deputy Corporation Counsel Joe Kamelamela pleaded Thursday with the County Council to keep the county band in the county charter.

The council was poised to send a charter amendment to the ballot that would remove references to the county band in order to eliminate an outdated provision that made the bands in Hilo and Kona exempt from civil service provisions. A state law pre-empted those provisions in the mid-1990s.

The ballot amendment would put to the voters a question that last year was unanimously passed by the council in three hearings and signed by Mayor Billy Kenoi.

But a crowd of band members and their supporters was enough to persuade council members to change their minds. The council voted 7-2 to postpone, effectively killing the measure’s chances of getting on the ballot.

“There were unintended consequences that I never saw,” said Puna Councilman Greggor Ilagan.

He and Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille were the no votes, saying they preferred to kill the measure outright instead.

Ilagan pushed to have the ordinance repealed at future meetings.

“We made a mistake on this one,” said South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Maile David.

Council Chairman Dru Kanuha, who introduced Resolution 549 directing the clerk to put the language on the ballot for the voters to decide, called it a “simple housekeeping measure.”

But band supporters — and they were legion — worried that the simple housekeeping measure would have dire consequences for the 133-year-old county band.

“This quote housekeeping measure is really a wrecking ball to the band,” said band member Sandra Sato.

“It means the county band will not be a part of county government anymore,” Kamelamela said. “This is the first day of the fight to save the band.”

“Why would you not be a part of county government of Hawaii that has a provision in the charter where music has a place?” Kim asked.

Band members were apparently still bristling over a move by Kenoi in 2009 when he tried to cut the band’s budget during the lean years and turn them into nonprofit entities. The mayor backed off after dozens of testifiers, including Kim himself, pleaded with him not to cut the bands’ funding.

“The will of the people was clear and concise they wanted to protect the fabric of this island,” said Bandmaster Paul Arceo.

But Corporation Counsel Molly Stebbins told the council that killing the measure by a resolution at this hour would set a bad precedent and could possibly allow the council to kill a future citizen ballot referendum the same way.

“This is a housekeeping measure,” Stebbins said. “It does not have the effect of eliminating the county band.”

But, for the council in an election year, perception is reality, and Stebbins’ advice was unheeded.

The 2016-17 budget that went into effect Friday allocates $242,339 for the county band, up 37 percent from $176,836 expended in the 2014-15 fiscal year, the most recent figures available. The band has 40 positions, with 16 of them unfunded for 24 total positions. All but the director are part-time positions, Onishi said.

The other positions are one-fifth time, requiring musicians to attend two practices each week and at least 40 performances annually.

The West Hawaii Band is allocated $40,871 in the new budget, up 42 percent from $28,783 in 2014-15. The West Hawaii band has 19 county positions, with nine unfunded.

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Hilo Councilman Dennis “Fresh” Onishi who had sponsored the original bill, said he had introduced it simply to remove the exemption against civil service requirements, but was persuaded by fellow council members to remove the section covering the county band entirely.

“I have always supported the county band,” Onishi said.

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