Longer council terms moves close to the ballot

HILO — Should County Council members serve longer terms?

The Charter Commission, by a bare 6-5 vote, on Friday advanced a proposed ballot amendment that would extend council terms from two to four years. The proposal faces two more readings and a public hearing before making its way to the 2020 ballot.


Hawaii County Council members currently are limited to four two-year terms before they have to sit out at least a term. The charter amendment would change that to two four-year terms.

Voters adopted the eight-year limit in 1996. They rejected longer council terms in 1998.

Proponents of four-year terms say a longer election cycle allows council members time to focus on their districts without the distraction of an upcoming election campaign. A longer term helps council members gain experience, learn parliamentary procedures and gain a more in-depth understanding of the issues facing the county. Council members may be more confident taking a position on a controversial issue if they’re not facing an election within a short time, proponents say.

“You get somebody voted in their first year and their second year they’re going to spend time campaigning and then they’re not so focused on the issues,” said Commissioner Jennifer Leilani Zelko-Schlueter, who voted yes. “It gives them time to focus on the important stuff.”

The four-year term allows council members to focus on longterm problem solving rather than quick fixes that may be short-lived and costly, proponents say. It’s less costly for the candidate and lessens the almost constant fund raising.

“The wheels of government turn slowly,” noted Commissioner William Carthage Bergin, who also voted yes.

Opponents of lengthening terms say it hinders voters’ ability to remove a poorly functioning council member by voting them out. Council members may be more responsive to their constituents and the requirements of their districts if they know they’ll soon be up for re-election, the opponents said. And, a two-year term can be conducive to more citizen participation with the electorate paying more attention to the quick election cycle and possibly getting more candidates to run for the election.

“I personally am more concerned with the council people knowing that they can be thrown out every two years if they’re not paying attention,” said Commissioner Kevin Hopkins, who voted no. “I like the accountability.”


Hawaii’s four counties handle council terms differently. Only Kauai has the same setup as Hawaii County, with four consecutive two-year terms. Honolulu council members can serve two consecutive four-year terms; Maui council members can serve five consecutive two-year terms.

Kauai voters recently overwhelmingly opposed a move to repeal term limits in their county, with 74 percent voting no to a measure on the 2018 general election ballot.

  1. Ken Conklin January 13, 2019 7:45 am

    Let’s remember that hippie who spent the last several months of her 2-year term refusing to vote or participate in council meetings because she feared that doing so could make her guilty of committing war crimes against the Hawaiian kingdom. So, would it be a good thing if she were still there for the next two years as a part of a 4-year term, taking her salary while depriving her constituents of anyone to represent their needs? With such a recent example, I hope the voters will resoundingly defeat the proposal for 4-year terms.

    1. Patrick Ira DonEgan January 13, 2019 1:18 pm

      I guess you missed the part about how they threatened her father with even more jail time??

  2. Colin12345 January 13, 2019 9:01 am

    A two year term requires Councilmembers to be able to justify tax and fee increases to their district voters before they vote in favor of them. A four year term just means all the tax and fee increases will occur during the first two years of their terms, leaving two years for the voters to forget who burned them. It also allows unforeseen incompetencies and bizarre behaviors (think: Trump) to go on and on without correction. Also, a four year term dulls the interest of grassroots potential leaders from stepping forward, because it’s so long between election cycles it’s hardly worth thinking about. lastly, remember that our State and National House of Representatives are elected on two year cycles. Works for them!

  3. J_Maritime January 13, 2019 9:14 am

    I have to think more about this, but it is a little disconcerting to hear the Commissioner say …”their second year they’re going to spend time campaigning and then they’re not so focused on the issues,” I don’t see these as mutually exclusive. I personally believe that the best campaign strategy would be doing a good job for your constituents. I don’t mean that one should not get out there and talk/campaign during your second year, but if you do a good job… that should be your calling card. Like I said, I have to give this more thought, but my initial thought is…. maybe not so much.

  4. 4whatitsworth January 13, 2019 10:08 am

    Who is behind this 4 year term extension? I wish we did not need to spend so much time and effort defending ourselves against the government! Think about it..is the government working for us, or are they more interested in power grabs like this, cronyism, and tax and fee increases?

  5. guidosarducci January 13, 2019 12:58 pm

    One word: “Ruggles”

    1. Patrick Ira DonEgan January 13, 2019 1:19 pm

      We are so lucky that she came out with the facts for everybody to see!

  6. Big ideas January 13, 2019 2:37 pm

    Make them get voted in every two years. We don’t want another Puna-tic Councilwoman.
    While you’re at it…..prohibit family members from serving for 5 years after the initial family member term expires ….cut the nepotism. Also prohibit family from government service at the same time a family member serves as well councilman…

  7. Buds4All January 13, 2019 5:47 pm

    How is it they get to decide? Or did I miss something here in my outrage. The terms should be less.

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