If voters agree Tuesday to a proposed Maui County Charter amendment to extend council members' terms from two to four years, then the county would become the second municipality in the state to have members of its legislative body serve four-year terms, beginning in 2014.
The nine members of the Honolulu City Council already have four-year terms, with members from even- and odd-numbered districts taking turns to face voters in each election cycle. Kauai's seven council members and Hawaii County's nine councilors serve two-year terms.
The Maui County Charter Commission's aim in proposing four-year terms is to increase council efficiency, said Josh Stone, the commission's chairman.
"Many members of the public that testified at our meetings, as well as a number of commissioners felt that in a two-year term cycle, it seemed that council members had one solid year of working and then had to look at campaigning for the following year, which takes up a lot of time, but also makes it politically difficult to make important decisions that may not be popular," he said via email.
Stone said it also was noted during the panel's discussions that many important issues facing Maui County have a "shelf life much longer than two years."
"So if new council members come in every two years, they need to catch up on important issues, which can stall the issue out even longer," he said.
Stone acknowledged that the flip side of extending council members' time in office is that, under the current two-year terms, "the public can hold the council member accountable every two years, and if the public is not happy with their performance, then can get rid of that council member."
"Obviously, if the terms were extended to four years, then the public would have to wait longer to get rid of a council member they weren't happy with," he said.
Council members have put forward their own charter amendment proposal, also dealing with members' terms in office. Their proposal would clarify that a council member who fills a vacancy in office for the remainder of an unexpired term would not have the remainder of the unexpired term counted toward term limits.
Currently, council members can serve a maximum of five consecutive terms for a total of 10 years. Under the Charter Commission's proposal, there would be a limit of three consecutive terms, or 12 years.
To achieve staggered terms, in the first election in 2014, the five council positions receiving the highest number of votes would get four-year terms beginning Jan. 2, 2015. The remaining four positions would receive two-year terms, initially, followed by four-year terms thereafter. The four could serve a maximum of 10 years.
Another proposed Charter Commission amendment would be to establish an independent Office of the County Auditor.
Stone said this proposal also seeks greater efficiency in county government to save money and improve services.
"Of course, the savings should outweigh the cost of the auditor's office," he said. "In the Charter Commission's proposal, the auditor would have the duty to not only audit the administration but also the council.
"The argument has been made, even by the mayor, that if the auditor is hired and fired by the council, she or he would not have the will to truly audit the council," he said. "In my personal opinion, it would be politically hazardous for a council to fire an auditor because of an audit that reflected a negative opinion on a council budget item. The other counties in Hawaii have a county auditor."
Another proposed charter change is to assign shoreline and ocean rescue and safety to the Department of Fire and Public Safety.
Stone said the proposal was brought forward by county ocean safety and rescue officials to coordinate first responders to save lives.
"The mayor is already implementing this move administratively, and in testimony the fire chief was in support of the move as long as it is coordinated in a fashion that doesn't interfere in the Department of Fire and Public Safety's goal of achieving accreditation," he said. "Another important purpose of defining this in the charter is that presently Ocean Safety and Rescue is under (the Department of) Parks and Recreation, and as the ocean safety officers put it . . . (it's) life-saving equipment versus lawn mowers."
The commission also is asking voters to add to the powers of the county Department of Environmental Management the mission to "guide efforts to optimize opportunities for environmental, natural resource protection, sustainability, conservation and restoration."
Stone said the proposal came from Mayor Alan Arakawa because there currently is no mechanism for the mayor to budget for programs addressing a number of environmental issues that "threaten Maui County's ecosystem and, in many cases, economy."
The threats include axis deer, miconia, coqui frogs and reef depletion, he said.
These are "left to state agencies to deal with, but the state agencies are oftentimes slow to react and are facing budget shortfalls, so they don't have the resources to truly take care of the problems," Stone said. "This proposal would allow the mayor to budget for and create staff to deal with these important items locally on a county level."
There are six other proposed charter amendments, which Stone called "basically no-brainers" for positive changes that come with strong public support or are "housekeeping items."
These six proposed amendments are to:
* Increase the time period for residency requirements in Maui County and from the residency area a candidate seeks to be elected from 90 days to one year before a candidate for the County Council files nomination papers.
* Increase the time period from 90 days to one year for a candidate for mayor to be a resident of Maui County before filing nomination papers.
* Require interactive communications access for public testimony at all County Council regular and committee meetings for residents of Hana, Lanai, Molokai and other areas the council deems appropriate and reasonable.
* Add a new section to require that the Maui County Charter be revised and published to include all significant amendments adopted.
* Add provisions to four chapters of the charter (those covering the departments of Fire and Public Safety, Personnel Services, Police Department and Liquor Control) to provide consistency in the process in which the various commissions of the listed departments that appoint its directors or chiefs handle the evaluation and removal of directors and chiefs.
* Add to the charter's preamble that "the people of the County of Maui being mindful of their Hawaiian history, heritage and culture and uniqueness as a four island County shall dedicate their efforts to fulfill the philosophy decreed by the Hawaii State motto, "Ua mau ke ea aina i ka pono," or "the life of the land is perpetuated in righteousness."
Voters also will be asked to vote on two proposed amendments to the state constitution.
One proposed amendment would allow the state Supreme Court chief justice to appoint retired judges as emeritus judges (after reaching mandatory retirement age of 70 years old), permitting the appointed judges to serve temporarily in courts no higher than the level they achieved prior to retirement. The temporary terms would not be allowed to exceed three months for each appointment.
The other constitutional amendment seeks authorization for the state to issue special-purpose revenue bonds and use the proceeds to assist dam and reservoir owners to make their facilities compliant with current safety standards.
* Brian Perry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.