Charter proposals head to County Council

  • The county purchased this fresh water spring, which leads to the ocean at Kawa Bay, with PONC funds. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

HILO — Land preservation advocate Debbie Hecht left the county Charter Commission meeting Friday vowing to launch a “just say no” campaign to a 2020 ballot amendment that would allow open space preservation money to be used to pay county staff.

It’s not that Hecht, the Save Our Lands citizen initiative coordinator who collected signatures to get a dedicated land fund on the 2005 and 2012 ballots, is opposed to county staff working on the land projects. In fact, she’s been asking for just that.

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But Hecht wants one dedicated staff person to handle property purchases and grants of land for the county Public Access, Open Space and Natural Resources Commission. She thinks the proposed charter change, to “pay for the salary, wages and benefits of staff dedicated to advancing the activities” of the program is too vague.

“We have come before you at every meeting of the Charter Commission since October of 2018. We have asked you over and over again to improve and empower the 2% Land Fund by hiring just one person to work full time on the land fund and to be paid out of the land fund monies,” Hecht told the commission. “We will run a ‘Just Say No’ campaign because we don’t want the land fund to be depleted of purchasing power by salaries, wages and benefits by more than one staff person.”

The charter commission, as it wrapped up its 59-page report making 21 recommendations (http://records.hawaiicounty.gov/weblink/1/doc/100575/Page1.aspx) and unanimously voted Friday to submit them to the County Council, left the proposed amendment unchanged.

Commissioners have previously heard from county officials who say departmental employees are expected to pitch in on other duties when needed and having one employee who can work only on one specific project could lead to downtime and lower productivity.

Other amendments in the report will lengthen County Council terms from two to four years, allow the council to discipline members, require the council to hold an equal number of meetings in East and West Hawaii, allow Police and Fire commissions to discipline the chief, create a disaster and emergency fund, tighten minimum qualifications for corporation counsel and fire chief, allow civil fines for ethics violations and preform numerous housekeeping changes.

The Charter Commission expects to submit the report to the County Council by Wednesday. The council then has 30 days to come up with any alternatives, said Charter Commission Chairman Doug Adams.

“They can’t change the proposals. They can submit alternatives to these proposals,” Adams said.

If the Charter Commission rejects the alternatives, the council then has the choice of recalling them or allowing them to go on the ballot along with the Charter Commission amendments. The commission expects to continue its work into the spring, creating the specific wording to appear on the ballot.

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“We will be transitioning from the development of the proposals to publicizing them,” Adams said.

Amendments will appear on the Nov. 3, 2020, ballot.

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