Self-Serving Charter Amendments And The Direct Democracy Option  

Not sure if others were as surprised as I was to see the 5 to 2 vote in support of moving forward a measure that if passed by voters would allow council-members to serve an unlimited amount of terms.
Perhaps I am naive. Even my occasionally cynical and sometimes jaded political pragmatism did not envision that a majority of the council would be so brazen. Voting in support of a proposal so obviously intended to benefit a handful of their own members who would otherwise term-out in 2020, would seem to be a risky move in an election year.  The two council-members voting in opposition were Council-members’ JoAnn Yukimura and Mason Chock.

What looks and feels like an attempt to consolidate power by the establishment now in power, probably is. No sense really getting into the story about the duck. It is all so very obvious.

Perhaps it’s time for some “people power”? If we assume for a moment that the established forces in control of business and government will resist any meaningful changes that attempt to limit or reduce their power, we can also assume that systemic change will only come from the grass roots.

I am speaking of the provisions in our existing charter that allow Kauai residents the right to introduce, put on the ballot and possibly pass their own “citizen based charter amendments”.

Basically with a good idea, a lawyer to write it up and 2,500 “valid” signatures, any Kauai resident can become a “citizen lawmaker” and exercise some good ole fashion “direct democracy”.

Let’s think for a moment of what type of charter amendments could be proposed that might provide systemic change to the existing power structure.

Possible charter amendments for discussion:

1) Any Charter amendments that are proposed via Resolution by the Kauai County Council involving the elimination or alteration of term limits, shall not take effect until at least 8 years from approval.

* This would prevent council-members from proposing charter amendments directly benefiting themselves such as what was recently passed.

2) No person who is a lobbyist or who has served as a lobbyist within prior 24 months shall be appointed to any Board or Commission.

* Yes, unfortunately there are individuals now who presently sit on County Boards and Commissions who are lobbyists and are by definition paid to influence government. WUWT?

3) No officer of the County, elected or appointed, shall be permitted to accept any gift whatsoever from any lobbyist or any person or entity who does business with or who has matters pending before the county.
* This seems so obvious but similar proposals have failed to pass the council.  The discussion always becomes bogged down in “How big a gift is too big”? A majority of council-members always fail to grasp the idea that there is only one reason a lobbyist gives a council-member a gift, whether it be a lunch or a travel junket, and that is to influence the council-member.

4) Members of the County Council shall be elected by a combination of at-large and Districts.  There shall be 3 District seats matching the existing 3 Representative Districts, and 4 at-large seats.

*This is the big one. While there are many variations on this theme, this 4/3 proposal seems to be the easiest to understand, the easiest to implement, a significant step toward providing better district representation but still retaining the benefits of the “at-large” existing system.

It is important to note that a charter amendment is not an ordinance. Charter amendments are intended to be foundational in nature where an ordinance will be more prescriptive and often intended to implement the charter provision.

To be safe (in a legal sense), any proposed charter amendment should be similar in format as those provisions currently within the charter.  Amending existing language is much more likely to be acceptable than adding entirely new concepts or provisions.

The process of gathering signatures also has to be attended to with care and the utmost of attention. The above cited 2,500 “valid” signatures is an approximate number intended to represent “5% of the registered voters in the last general election”. “Valid” means the signatures represent registered voters in the County of Kauai whose signatures have been validated by the County Clerk.  This may mean gathering many more signatures than the basic minimum as it can be expected that many will be found to be invalid (not registered to vote, moved, incomplete name, illegible name etc).

There are also “timeline” requirements requiring that the language and the signature petition be submitted to the County Clerk in sufficient time to allow for proper review and placement on the ballot.

Those citizens in our community interested in pursuing this path of direct democracy are strongly encouraged to first READ THE COUNTY CHARTER, specifically sections pertaining to CHARTER AMENDMENT. http://www.kauai.gov/Portals/0/Boards_Commissions/Charter/Kauai%20Charter%20Codified%202016%20(Final).pdf?ver=2016-12-30-090727-520

Finally, after the Charter is reviewed, a meeting with the County Clerk is also highly recommended so that the citizen or citizen group undertaking this task has a clear understanding of the rules and process required.

It goes without saying, that I am open to meeting and discussing the potential of this option, with anyone at anytime.

About garyhooser

This blog represents my thoughts as an individual person. I presently serve now as a volunteer President of the Hawaii Alliance for Progressive Action (H.A.P.A.) www.hapahi.org In a past life I was an elected member of the Kauai County Council, a Hawaii State Senator and Majority Leader and the Director of Environmental Quality Control for the State of Hawaii - in an even earlier incarnation I was an entrepreneur and small business owner. Yes, I am one of the luckiest guys on the planet. “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We’re afraid.” “Come to the edge.” “We can’t. We will fall!” “Come to the edge.” And they came. And he pushed them. And they flew. - Christopher Logue (b.1926)
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