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.