Council weighs charter amendments; Term limit measure nearly dead

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Another two years for County Council members, a larger Board of Ethics and an expanded scope for the general plan are among changes to the county charter considered Tuesday by the County Council.

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Another two years for County Council members, a larger Board of Ethics and an expanded scope for the general plan are among changes to the county charter considered Tuesday by the County Council.

All three of the bills — likely the only county charter amendments to be offered to voters on the Nov. 8 general election ballot — are sponsored by Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille. All went through considerable compromises throughout several months before being advanced by the council.

Bill 101 increases the number of members of the county Board of Ethics from five to nine, with a board member selected from each council district. Members will continue to be nominated by the mayor and confirmed by the council.

The bill also removes the requirement regarding political affiliation. Current law requires a balance of Republicans and Democrats.

And, it requires meetings be hosted on both sides of the island. Meetings currently are hosted only in Hilo.

“Ethics and ethical conduct by government and government employees is important,” Wille said. “You can have all the duties you want, but if there’s no accountability, it’s meaningless.”

It passed the first of three required readings on a 7-2 vote, clearing the two-thirds majority required to advance it further. Hilo Councilmen Dennis “Fresh” Onishi and Aaron Chung voted no.

Dissenters said ethics knows no geographic boundaries, and an expanded board could be more cumbersome.

“It’s an inherently flawed system altogether,” Chung said, “when you have a board appointed by the mayor and approved by the council … it doesn’t seem a very fair situation when the mayor or a council member comes before it.”

Proponents point to the difficulties the current five-member board has achieving a quorum, or enough members to legally have a meeting and vote.

Having board members from each council district, said North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff, “there’s a feeling of balance.”

Any changes to the charter would have to be approved by voters. The council’s actions could only get an issue on the ballot for the public to ultimately decide.

Bill 154 would allow council members to run for five consecutive two-year terms before being term-limited. Current law allows four consecutive two-year terms. It was postponed on second reading when it appeared doomed because of majority council member opposition.

The council voted 7-2 to give it one more chance at the next meeting. Chung and Puna Councilman Greggor Ilagan voted no, preferring to kill the bill outright.

Hamakua Councilwoman Valerie Poindexter said in eight years, “we’re just getting warmed up.”

“We need to finish projects,” Poindexter said. “A lot of time, projects don’t get finished because we don’t have the opportunity.”

Onishi said increasing the term to 10 years would allow council members to get retirement health benefits, which will raise the cost to taxpayers.

“I can’t support this, because I feel that eight years is enough,” said Onishi, who is term-limited and on his last consecutive year.

Bill 179 would expand the scope of the county’s general plan, which is the long-term document governing land use on the island. It adds health to factors that should be considered in planning growth, and specifies that the plan is the “long-range policy for the comprehensive physical, economic, environmental and socio-cultural well-being of the county.”

It passed its second of three readings on a 7-1 vote, with Onishi voting no and Poindexter absent.

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“These words may seem very theoretical,” said Wille, “but they are important.”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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