The Hawaii County Charter (charter) is the constitution of the county. It is the will of the people to make council terms just two years and to hold council members (CMs) accountable. The current Charter Commission is considering four-year terms for CMs. As a former CM, I continue to testify against four-year terms.
I’ve served with some outstanding, hardworking, and dedicated CMs who were focused on the resident’s best interests. I’ve also worked with lazy, nonproductive, and obstructive CMs who believe that it is their job to work for the mayor or to show up and vote for the incumbent CM’s best interests. Some of these obstructive CMs are so hardened against public testimony that they will actually get up and leave the council chamber for most if not all of the public testimony and then claim that they watched on their office computers or they had other meetings to attend so they could not come to the council meetings. The chairperson allows this behavior. These CMs need to be removed as quickly as possible by their constituents.
Some charter commissioners state that the freshman CMs must learn their job in their first year and then run for re-election in their second year. Every candidate knows when they sign up to run for county council that it is a two-year term. If they win, their salary is $70,000 per year. Therefore, they should learn their job quickly and run without complaint. An election is about the will of the people and choosing the best candidate for the job. It is not about the comfort of the incumbent who is well compensated!
Currently, there are three options to removing an ineffective CM: Recall, impeachment, or by the vote of the people in a regular election.
Recall requires a “petition demanding that the question of removing such official be submitted to the voters” … “signed by qualified voters equal to or greater than twenty-five percent of the total valid votes cast for the district office subject to the recall petition in the last election.” This means thousands of signatures need to be gathered using great amounts of time and money.
“The term “qualified voter” means a person who is registered to vote in the county on the day that the clerk begins the examination to determine the sufficiency of the signatures on the petition.” The office of elections under the County Clerk “examines” the signatures which really means that every person who used their nickname instead of their legal name, left off their middle initial if used when they registered, or left off “street,” “avenue,” “place,” “lane,” or “circle” from their address is removed from the petitions in order to prevent enough signatures to qualify for the ballot for the recall election. (Note: Anyone who inadvertently signs more than once on a petition will automatically have their duplicate signature removed, and it should be.)
In charter section 12-1.3, it states: “Signers of a recall petition shall print their name, which shall be reasonably similar to their name as it appears on the general county register… .” The “reasonably similar” phrase has been ignored by the office of elections as it was when the Public Access, Open Space, and Natural Resources Preservation Fund was first submitted to be on the ballot, and many thousands of signatures were disqualified. Fortunately, the county council voted to put the initiative on the ballot anyway.
If enough qualified signatures are “sufficient” to place the recall question on a ballot in the next regular election or in a special election, the public gets to vote to recall the CM. Since it is unlikely that the council or the public would support an expensive special election, the problem is that the public would have voted in the next two-year election anyway so absolutely nothing is gained by the recall attempt despite some charter commissioners telling the public that it is an option – a worthless option!
Then there is impeachment. Charter section 12-2.1 states “Any elected officer or officer appointed to a vacancy in any elected office may be impeached for malfeasance, misfeasance, nonfeasance, or maladministration in office.” This requires a criminal trial in a court of law which can take many years to be heard, and you must prove to the court that the person committed malfeasance, misfeasance, nonfeasance, or maladministration in office. Meanwhile, more elections take place and the public may vote the CM out of office before the case is ever heard in court. The charter commissioners never tell the public why this worthless option does not work!
We are left with the elections option in which the voters can remove the ineffective or criminal CM from office. Such a CM can be removed quickly in a regular two-year election before the CM does much damage, but four-year terms allow ample time for serious damage to the public’s will or the county coffers. Four-year terms force either an expensive special election, recall, or impeachment action, and none of these choices work in a timely or financially reasonable manner. Two-year terms hold CMs accountable, and that is why I support them.
The Charter Commission advocates charter amendment CA-8 to change the terms of CMs from four consecutive two-year terms to two consecutive four-year terms. The commissioners are totally ignoring the facts mentioned above to humor CMs who are supposed to learn fast and work for the people rather than just collect their salaries. The commission needs to vote down CA-8, stop wasting the public’s time testifying against it, and move on to more productive work. I respectfully request that the public testify against CA-8 at a Charter Commission meeting when it is on the agenda again.
Brenda Ford is a former Hawaii County Council member and resident of Captain Cook.