Op-Ed: Yuki Lei Sugimura Wants County Manager Proposal “Properly Vetted” by Charter Commission

April 10, 2020, 6:33 PM HST · Updated April 10, 6:33 PM
Yuki Lei Sugimura, Councilmember - County of Maui, Upcountry · 2 Comments
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Op-ed Commentary
submitted by Councilmember Yuki Lei Sugimura
“County Manager proposal should be properly vetted by Charter Commission”

Recently, the Maui County Council resumed considering a proposal to significantly change the structure of Maui County governance, to include a County Manager and to rescind many powers currently held by the Mayor. This proposal is scheduled for a public hearing at 9 a.m. on April 17, 2020 and simultaneously for second and final reading by the Council at this same meeting. During this meeting the Council will take action in regards to placing this matter on the General Election ballot for November 2020. Individuals may participate with testimony regarding this charter amendment by videoconference at https://maui.bluejeans.com/295235670 or phone call at 1-408-317-9253 and input meeting code 295235670 or you may send written testimony to [email protected] We need to hear from you.

This is a similar proposal to one that was considered previously, and ultimately rejected, by a previous Council. At this time a state of emergency has been declared by Governor David Ige and Mayor Michael Victorino and attention is fully on the public health crisis that faces us. In the interest of open government and to allow meaningful community deliberation, dealing with a proposal that makes wide-ranging changes to our County Charter (which is unrelated to the public health crisis) is not prudent or fair to the community when safety and well-being is a primary focus.

In 2016, the Maui County Council formed a Temporary Investigative Committee to study a variety of governance structures and to consider whether to change our county’s form of governance. The TIG provided an array of information to the Council and recommendations for a proposed ballot question. However, the Council decided not to adopt the recommendation at that time.

The decision to revive this debate has ignited passionate, meaningful and significant differences from citizens who love our community and want the best possible future for Maui Nui. That is why the matter deserves consideration with proper vetting and transparency on the extremely significant range of changes it would make to the County Charter. There should be meaningful, thoughtful deliberation on the matter and legitimate broad based public input be incorporated.

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Unfortunately, these basic pillars of good governance cannot take place when we force a substantial proposal forward, all while dictating to and discouraging the broader community from coming into our chambers.

For these reasons the proposed charter amendment should be referred to the Charter Commission, a body whose role is to review the operations of the county government and weigh in on proposed changes to our constitutional document and result in significant changes for our community. Several years have passed, as well as improved processes made to the existing form of government. It is my belief that the current proposal could use further review and concerted refinement to ensure that its stated outcomes are achieved.

In particular, I believe the Charter Commission needs to consider whether or not the proposal is fiscally responsible in terms of costs for public services and whether or not it includes safeguards for taxpayers in the event that the County Manager fails to meet stated objectives. The Commission should also obtain broad based and balanced community input and incorporate methods to assess the success of the newly created office. The Commission would also provide a thorough report based on a transparent, deliberative process to ensure the proposal does not incorporate other miscellaneous, unrelated changes into the Charter.

The people of Maui County deserve the best possible county government that achieves its stated objectives without unduly burdening its citizens financially. In order to achieve this, we must wisely consider the form of our administration, which includes careful and sound vetting of the proposed changes, public education, broad community input on our proposals, and accountability for those we empower to govern our community. Passing a proposal to make wide-ranging changes to our County Charter during this state of public health emergency does a great disservice to our diverse constituents, who deserve to have full attention on this game changing proposal and to be able to provide their input.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic Councilmember Sugimura’s County Council office is closed and we are working remotely. For more information please feel free to contact her on her cell number at (808) 870-8047 or [email protected]

*Yuki Lei Sugimura holds the Maui County Council seat for the Upcountry residency area. She was a member of the 2011-2012 Charter Commission.

*****Views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author’s alone and do not reflect or represent the opinions, policies or positions of Maui Now.***** 

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