By Keoni Kuoha
Every 10 years in Maui County, a commission is assembled to review the charter – which establishes the structure and organization of the government of the County of Maui – and consider proposals to amend the charter to improve government and make it more responsive to the residents of the county.
Beginning in March, the Charter Commission convened, and 11 commissioners have met regularly since then to take testimony and recommendations from interested county residents, including elected and appointed officials from the various departments, commissions, boards, and the council that makes up the county government. In July, the Commission also started to discuss the specific wording of proposed amendments to the charter and take action on proposals. There are a total of approximately 130 proposals set to be decided upon by the Commission, the bulk of this work ending at the close of this year.
So far, the Commission has adopted a variety of proposed charter amendments to be put before Maui County voters on the November 2022 general election ballot.
Among the more significant proposals is a charter amendment that would create three council voting districts, each with three residency areas, the intention being to lower the barriers for candidates running for council. Currently, although candidates for council must reside in the residency area for which they are running, they are elected on an at-large basis by all Maui County voters.
Another proposal would create an independent selection commission to recommend candidates to those County positions that benefit from greater independence from the political branches of government.
In October, the Commission considered proposals under the themes of planning and policing – both themes resonating with issues that have garnered attention across Hawaiʻi. Several proposals related to planning revolve around the apparent dissonance between the wishes of communities and the decisions of the Maui Planning Commission. Also among the planning proposals is an amendment that establishes the Cultural Resources Commission in the charter and a proposal that would remove the exception that places the Kalaupapa Settlement outside of the Molokaʻi Planning Commission’s purview. Among the proposals related to policing, most seek to create greater community oversight over county policing. As of mid-October, most proposals under these two themes are still under consideration.
Among the proposals that the Commission will consider in November and December, several touch upon issues of particular importance to Native Hawaiians.
Relevant to the decades-long struggle over the freshwater resources of East Maui and Nā Wai ʻEhā, one proposal would bring all water sources under the direct control of the County’s Department of Water Supply, thus removing water resources from private management.
Another proposal would mandate that the county operate as a bilingual government, with all official writings of the county made available in both English and Hawaiian. Finally, there is a proposal before the Commission to create a deputy director position within the Department of Housing and Human Concerns that would act as a liaison with the Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL). This charter amendment would enable greater collaboration between Maui County and DHHL, both having a fundamental interest in affordable housing for Native Hawaiians.
Good government requires everyone’s participation. Please share your thoughts concerning Maui County government with the Charter Commission. The public is encouraged to send written testimony via email to Charter.Commission@mauicounty.gov. To ensure timely distribution to the commissioners, written testimony should be submitted at least two business days prior to the meetings. For more information or to join Maui Charter Commission meetings follow the link on the Commission website www.mauicounty.gov/CharterCommission
Keoni Kuoha lives in Pukalani, Maui, and serves on the Maui County Charter Commission. The manaʻo shared in this article are his own – they are not the views of the Commission.