Majority of proposed Charter amendments pass

The Hawaii County Council will be required to hold an equal number of meetings in East Hawaii and West Hawaii under a Charter amendment approved Tuesday by voters.

It’s already the practice for the council to hold the same number of meetings in Kailua-Kona as the nine-member legislative body does in Hilo, but now it’s written into to law after 77% of ballots cast by Hawaii Island voters were in favor of Proposal 2.

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Prior to the amendment, the council, which must meet twice every month, was required to meet in West Hawaii just once per quarter, or four times annually. Meetings in West Hawaii weren’t required at all until 2000, when voters passed a charter amendment mandating the quarterly meetings. Video-conferencing of meetings began in 2005.

In 2007, the council passed a resolution to hold meetings equally between the two sides. In 2009, amid the Great Recession, a resolution was put forth by then-Hilo Council Donald Ikeda to reduce Kona meetings to four times per year in an effort to save about $51,000 annually. The proposal was shelved after South Kona Councilwoman Brenda Ford spoke up on the matter, calling it divisive.

Hawaii Island residents voted on 15 other proposed amendments to the Hawaii County Charter Tuesday. And, while most amendments returned favorable results, some appeared to fail. Those proposals could be revived by the council or other county agencies in the future.

• Proposal No. 1, Relating to Technical, Linguistic, and Grammatical Revisions of the Charter: A largely perfunctory amendment, Proposal No. 1 simply made assorted grammatical changes to the charter’s language for clarity’s sake. As of Tuesday evening, 65% of voters had voted in support of the amendment.

• Proposal No. 3, Relating to the Department of Research and Development: This proposal would update the the Charter’s definition of the Department of Research and Development’s powers, duties and functions. The proposal received 75% of the vote.

• Proposal No. 4, Relating to Authority of Police and Fire Commissions: Under this amendment, the Police and Fire Commissions would be clearly granted authority to discipline the chief of police and fire chief, respectively, something that was unclear in previous charters. The proposal received 74%.

• Proposal No. 5, Relating to Terms of Council Members: Beginning in 2022, County Council members would, under this amendment, serve for four-year terms instead of the current two-year terms, with no member allowed to serve more than two consecutive terms. While this proposal did not change the number of consecutive years a council member could serve, the county Department of Finance suggested the proposal would be a savings in unemployment benefits, as staff hired by council members would also be able to work for four-year terms before the next election. Forty-eight percent of voters voted against this proposal, compared to 42% in favor.

• Proposal No. 6, Relating to the Public Access, Open Space, and Natural Resources Preservation Fund: This proposal would allow the county to use money within the Public Access, Open Space and, and Natural Resources Preservation Fund to pay for staff to support the fund itself. The Department of Finance estimated that the salary of a technician hired under this proposal would be nearly $40,000 per year. The proposal appeared set to pass Tuesday evening with 52% of the vote.

• Proposal No. 7: Relating to Discipline of Council Members: Under this amendment, the County Council would be allowed to temporarily suspend members without pay for “disorderly or contemptuous behavior” or missing three or more regular council meetings without being excused by the council chair. The Department of Finance stated that council members accrue salary at a rate of $269 per day, or $296 for the council chair. The proposal had received overwhelming support Tuesday evening, with 81% of voters in favor.

• Proposal No. 8: Relating to the Department of Information Technology: This amendment would exempt the IT systems of the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney and the Hawaii County Police Department from Department of Information Technology oversight. Because the Prosecuting Attorney and Police Department both already operate their own IT functions, the proposal merely codifies the practices already in place. With all precincts reporting, 46% of voters were opposed to the proposal, compared to 37% in favor.

• Proposal No. 9: Relating to the Establishment of a Disaster and Emergency Fund: This amendment would establish a Disaster and Emergency Fund that would accumulate at least $20 million to be used to aid recovery from a future natural or human-caused disaster. Monies for the fund would be provided by at least 1% of the annual certified real estate tax revenues and other sources, which would increase county expenditures by approximately $3 million per year. Fifty-one percent of voters were in support of the proposal.

• Proposal No. 10: Relating to the Public Access, Open Space, and Natural Resources Preservation Maintenance Fund: This proposal would place management of the fund under the Department of Finance, rather than the Department of Parks and Recreation as it is currently. The proposal also clarifies the stewardship grant awards process. The vote was extremely close as of Tuesday evening, with 44% of voters in favor and nearly 42% opposed.

• Proposal No. 11: Relating to Mandatory Charter Reviews: This amendment would clarify the process by which amendments such as this one are proposed, and would allow more time for charter review commissions to make their reports and recommendations before amendments go to ballot. The proposal passed Tuesday with 69% of the vote.

• Proposal No. 12: Relating to Corporation Counsel: Under this amendment, the qualifications to serve as County Corporation Counsel would include being licensed to practice law for at least five years, and at least three years of supervisory experience. This proposal received 71% of the vote.

• Proposal No. 13: Relating to the Hawaii Fire Department: The amendment would include water safety among the fire department’s core duties, and would increase the qualification requirements for the fire chief. More than 58% of voters had voted in favor of the amendment.

• Proposal No. 14: Relating to Membership on Boards and Commissions: This proposal would remove language in the charter that requires county boards and commissions to not have a majority of members belonging to a single political party. Forty-seven percent of voters were in support of the proposal, compared to 37% who voted “no.”

• Proposal No. 15: Relating to the Capital Budget and Capital Programs: Based on this proposal, priorities for capital improvement projects would be based on criteria developed within the county general plan and other development plans, in order to make the allocation of funds more efficient. Sixty-nine percent of ballots returned by Tuesday night were in favor of the proposal.

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• Proposal No. 16: Relating to the Board of Ethics: Under this proposal, the Board of Ethics would be clearly granted authority to impose civil fines for violations of the Code of Ethics. The proposal passed with nearly 70% of voters voting “yes.”

The Hawaii Tribune-Herald contributed to this report.

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