Last week, I summarized the constitutional amendments and proposed amendments Hawaii, Maui, and Kauai counties. This week, I’m plunging into the 20 proposed amendments in Honolulu County.
Voters in Honolulu County face a big challenge in the 2016 general election: reading, discussing, and debating 20 charter amendments that will have a big impact on our future. I won’t go into detail, but I’ll add some thoughts and questions to think about (my comments in italics). Pay special attention to proposed amendments #4 (HART), #9 (Honolulu Zoo), and #13 (Grants in Aid Fund).
Proposed Honolulu County Amendments
1: Should the Police Commission have greater authority to suspend or dismiss the chief of police and have additional powers to investigate complaints concerning officer misconduct, and should the chief of police be required to submit a written explanation for his or her disagreement with the Commission?
Do we need it? Uncertain. There should be some oversight over the chief of police, but I am not sure whether it should be the Police Commission, the Ethics Commission, or another department. Can we afford it? Yes. This doesn’t seem to cost anything.
2: Should the Ethics Commission set the salaries of the Ethics Commission’s executive director and staff attorneys within specified limits?
Do we need it? Uncertain. I don’t know who currently sets those salaries. Can we afford it? This doesn’t seem to cost anything.
3: Should the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney control its budget after it is approved by the City Council?
Do we need it? Uncertain. Other executive agencies have control of their budgets. Can we afford it? Uncertain.
4: Should a unified multi-modal transportation system be created by: 1) Forming a Rate Commission to annually review and recommend adjustments to bus and paratransit fares, rail fares and parking fees; 2) Placing operations and maintenance responsibilities for bus, paratransit and rail solely in the Department of Transportation Services and providing for the transfer of positions and legal rights and obligations relating to rail operations and maintenance from the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) to the Department of Transportation Services effective July 1, 2017; and 3) Clarifying the responsibility of the HART Board to establish policies, rules, and regulations regarding the development of the rail system, the internal management and organization of HART, and the allocation of decision-making authority between the Board and the agency’s executive director and staff, and amending the responsibilities of the HART Board to include determining the policies for approval of certain agreements with the federal, public or private entities?
Do we need it? Uncertain. It makes sense that the Department of Transportation would oversee rail transit. Currently, the Transportation Commission, the City Council, and HART are all involved in various decision-making. Can we afford it? Uncertain. This seems to dissolve HART (operations) but keep the HART Board (management). I can’t tell if this would save money or cost money.
5: Should the Affordable Housing Fund be used to develop rental housing for persons earning 60 percent or less of the median household income, provided that the housing remains affordable for at least 60 years?
Do we need it? No. While this raises the income level from 50% to 60% of median household income, it removes the requirement that dwellings remain affordable in perpetuity. Can we afford it? No.
6: Should departments responsible for the city’s infrastructure needs be required to prepare long-term plans?
Do we need it? Yes. Why don’t they already have long-term plans? Can we afford it? Yes. We need to anticipate maintenance and improvements, and not be surprised by emergencies or federal fines.
7: Should the city use its powers to serve the people in a sustainable and transparent manner and to promote stewardship of natural resources for present and future generations, and should the city create an Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency?
Do we need it? Yes and no. I think we need this at the state level, but not necessarily at the city level. Can we afford it? No. I think it would be very costly to establish and staff a new executive agency, and add more layers of bureaucracy, regulations, and reports.
8: Should a new Department of Land Management responsible for the protection, development, and management of city lands be established?
Do we need it? No. We don’t need more government bureaucracy. Can we afford it? No. This seems like a duplication of existing services.
9: Should a Honolulu Zoo Fund be established and funded by a minimum of one-half of one percent of estimated annual real property taxes to pay for Honolulu Zoo expenses to assist the Honolulu Zoo in regaining its accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums?
Do we need it? No. The Honolulu Zoo needs to operate within its budget. Can we afford it? No. Public services, public safety, and infrastructure have a higher priority.
10: Should the mayor’s executive powers and the City Council’s legislative powers only be subject to exceptions specifically provided in the Charter and should the mayor and the City Council be given concurrent authority to establish funds when no appropriate funds of the same type exist and to propose amendments to the annual executive budget?
Do we need it? Uncertain. While I support limiting the mayor’s executive powers and the City Council’s legislative powers, Charter approval may limit their ability to respond quickly to a crisis. Can we afford it? Yes. This doesn’t seem to cost anything.
11: Should an approval process and an advisory commission for Clean Water Natural Lands Fund projects be established in the Charter?
Do we need it? Uncertain. This creates a new commission and more bureaucracy. Are proposals accepted currently? If yes, who reviews them? Can we afford it? Uncertain.
12: Should all boards and commissions, except for the Board of Water Supply, the board for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) and any board or commission mandated by state or federal law, be reviewed periodically to determine whether they should be retained, amended or repealed?
Do we need it? No. Board and commission usefulness should be reviewed as needed, rather than reviewed periodically. Can we afford it? No.
13: Should the Grants in Aid Fund be the sole source (with certain designated exceptions) for city-funded grants to federal income tax-exempt nonprofit organizations that provide services to economically and/or socially disadvantaged populations or that provide services for the public benefit in the areas of the arts, culture, economic development or the environment?
Do we need it? Yes and no. Yes, because city-funded grants would be awarded more consistently and with less duplication of programs; and city departments and agencies would not need to review grant proposals individually. No, because I don’t know how the loss of funding would affect nonprofits and the communities they serve. Can we afford it? Uncertain.
14: Should the deadline to hold a special election to replace the mayor, prosecutor or councilmembers be extended from 60 to 120 days, and should the City Council be able to appoint a temporary member until a special election is held?
Do we need it? Yes, if the current 60 day deadline does not meet state law. Can we afford it? Yes. This doesn’t seem to cost anything.
15: Should the term limit for the prosecuting attorney, the mayor and the councilmembers be three consecutive four-year terms?
Do we need it? No. Currently, the mayor and councilmembers are limited to two consecutive four-year terms. I support term limits for elected representatives, but I don’t think the prosecuting attorney needs to have term limits. Can we afford it? Yes. This doesn’t seem to cost anything.
16: Should certain city departments be responsible for their own program planning and small infrastructure design and construction projects, and should the powers, functions, and duties of the Department of Environmental Services be updated and expanded to emphasize resource recovery and include the planning, engineering, design, and construction of all of its projects?
Do we need it? Yes. This gives city departments flexibility and control over small projects, low-impact projects. Can we afford it? Yes. This doesn’t seem to cost anything; it could streamline projects and may even save money.
17: Should the mayor have the authority to delegate the signing of documents to certain other city officers?
Do we need it? No. The mayor should not delegate signing authority. Can we afford it? Yes. This doesn’t seem to cost anything.
18: Should the Fire Commission be expanded from five to seven members, and should the fire chief’s powers, duties and functions be updated to reflect current services?
Do we need it? No and yes. No, I don’t think the Commission needs to be expanded. Yes, if the Fire Chief already performs these duties. Can we afford it? This doesn’t seem to cost much, except perhaps a salary increase for the Fire Chief.
19: Should the requirement be repealed that no more than five of the City Council Reapportionment Commission’s nine members be from the same political party?
Do we need it? No or not applicable. The Commission should be nonpartisan. Can we afford it? Yes. This doesn’t seem to cost anything.
20: Should the Charter be amended for housekeeping amendments (i) to conform to current functions and operation, (ii) to conform to legal requirements, (iii) to correct an inadvertent omission, and (iv) for clarity? (a) Require the books and records of all city departments be open to public inspection; (b) Require the Department of the Corporation Counsel to update the Charter by July 1 of the year after the election at which Charter amendments proposed by the Charter Commission are approved by the electorate; (c) Require the Charter Commission to submit amendments to the Office of the City Clerk five working days before the deadline for ballot questions to be submitted to the state Chief Election Officer; (d) Require that all written contracts of the Board of Water Supply and the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation be approved by the Department of Corporation Counsel for form and legality; and (e) Require that the city centralized purchasing practices conform to the state procurement code.
Do we need it? Yes, if these procedures and operations are already performed. Can we afford it? This doesn’t seem to cost anything.
The Office of Elections compiled a Factsheet of Constitutional and Charter Amendment Questions. With so many decisions to make, I encourage everyone to think about these issues before voting. Discuss them with family and friends. Be one of the decision-makers who will determine our future.
Which issues affect or concern you most? How will you vote in the general election?