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Maui voters will decide new agricultural department, chief executive and more

Maui County voters will decide on significant changes to the structure of government and other issues when they cast their ballots in the Nov. 3 general election.

Meanwhile, at least three interest groups are flooding mailboxes and web pages trying to sway voters one way or another. Two of the groups, who want to see all of the amendments passed, are backed by community organizations with a history of lawsuits against the county over certain developments.

The third group wants to see all measures fail and is financed by a mysterious non-profit organization that has spent a lot to oust a coalition of county council members who pushed the proposals forward.

Seven questions about amending the charter appear on ballots sent to Maui voters on Thursday. They include proposals to increase the flow of money to an affordable housing fund, restructure the post of chief executive, create a ministry of agriculture, set term limits and resolve legal disputes over county laws.

All of the charter amendment matters were approved by the board earlier this year, with five of the proposed amendments passed by the board at a meeting in July. Most were approved by a 6-3 super majority of the board.

Maui County voters are gearing up to decide on several ballot measures that could change the way government is run. Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat/2019

Maui Mayor Mike Victorino hasn’t supported charter amendments in a year, he says residents are still distracted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“I did not recommend that the board push for these charter amendments to be presented to voters this year when there is a great deal of budget uncertainty and in the context of a pandemic,” Victor wrote: in an editorial in the Oct. 3 edition of the Maui News.

On the same day, Council President Alice Lee, who voted in favor of all the amendments, published a overview of charter issues in the Maui newspaper. Lee had the statements in the preview verified by county prosecutors, according to a news release.

No political appointments

Perhaps the most complex of the issues facing voters concerns the restructuring of the CEO position.

If voters approve the modification of the charter, the chief executive would take over the day-to-day operations of the county. The mayor could hire and fire the manager, unless two-thirds of the council overturns the mayor’s decision to fire the manager.

One of the most drastic changes it would make is the decoupling of the appointment of department heads from mayoral terms. Currently, once a new mayor is elected, the former mayor’s cabinet loses office.

If the amendment passes, department heads will not lose their jobs once the mayor’s term ends.

Proponents of the amendment hope it would depoliticize the nomination process and help find more candidates in the public and private sectors.

“We don’t want politics deciding who gets permits to build where,” said Mark Hyde, chairman of the Holomua Ohana Voting Committee for Professional Management. “We hire people based on their qualification for the jobs. It also opens these jobs up to everyone; you don’t need to know the mayor to be considered.

Maui Mayor Michael Victorino did not support the charter amendments, one of which would change how future administrations will operate. Nick Grube/Civil Beat/2020

The mayor should convene a citizens’ advisory group and the council president to seek a chief executive. The mayor could then draw up a contract for the manager, which would require council approval.

The general manager would also have a say in the hiring of department heads.

The CEO’s question is attracting interest from a new voting committee called Vote No on Hui O Maui Nui Charter Amendments We Can’t Afford This.

Buddy Nobriga, group president and Roselani ice cream director of operations, said he created the committee because he was concerned that the convoluted language of many of the charter amendments would not be clear to voters.

The group said it received $20,000 from Hui O Maui, a nonprofit created by a San Francisco attorney with ties to timeshare groups in Maui.

The Hui group sent out flyers with the headline “Don’t vote for your rights” and information that opponents say is misleading.

For example, the leaflet states that the mayor would lose power over the chief executive, who would be hired by the council.

The charter amendment language stipulates that the mayor would hire the general manager, act as that person’s supervisor and send his contract to the council for approval.

The Hui O Maui leaflet also states that the council would have unprecedented power over the executive branch, which Hyde says would not be the case because the council’s only duty would be to approve the contract between the chief executive and the mayor. .

Nobriga is still concerned about other sections of the charter amendment, which would give the chief executive certain functions currently performed by the mayor such as oversight and assignments for services.

Nobriga is also concerned that some of the charter amendments, particularly those proposing a county director and the one proposing an agricultural department, could increase costs.

It’s really affordable and our right to choose as voters,” Nobriga said. “We would like to educate people, and (the amendments) are something they should consider.”

The Hui O Maui flyer also tells voters to vote “no” on all other charter amendments, though imposing term limits is unlikely to incur additional costs for county residents.

Two other groups, Holomua Ohana for professional management and Expanding Jobs on Maui in Local Food Production and Affordable Homes want the seven amendments to the Charter passed.

The biggest donor to the Holomua Ohana group was Michael Williams, who runs the Grow Maui jobs group and donated $2,600 to the Election Committee. Williams is also the treasurer of Holomua Ohana.

Holomua Ohana said he spent $8,358 on newspaper, web and radio ads to support the changes. The Grow Maui Jobs group said it spent $645 on Facebook and newspaper ads.

Grow Maui Jobs said he received $11,900 from the Maui Tomorrow Foundation, a community group that has filed lawsuits against real estate developments on Maui. Williams is also chairman of this group.

The Hui Group did not declare any expenses, but the reports all dropped groups only cover the period between August 9 and September 26. Another report on PAC spending due out Oct. 26 is expected to reveal how much committees spent trying to sway voters while ballots were in their hands.

The agency would advocate for farmers

Voters will also be asked if a new Department of Agriculture should “develop a sustainable regional agricultural system for Maui County?”

That’s a question John Dobovan plans to answer with a “yes.”

Dobovan belongs to the Hawaii United Farmers Union. The group’s Maui chapters all support the charter amendment.

Dobovan breeds trout and watercress at home commercial aquaponics farm in Koula. He said he and the farmers he knows all support the charter amendment because they want greater representation in county government and a helping hand to streamline permit processes and gain access. to subsidies.

“Most work dawn to dusk seven days a week,” Dobovan said of his colleagues. “We don’t have much time to scroll the Internet.”

But the county’s farming community appears divided on the issue.

While HFUU chapters support the amendment, a survey of Maui County Farm Bureau members found that 84% of respondents did not support the creation of a new Department of Agriculture.

The new department would be responsible for increasing opportunities in agriculture, enhancing food security and diversifying forms of agriculture.

Some farmers favor a charter amendment to create a department of agriculture, while a farmers association in Maui opposes it. Hawaii Agricultural Bureau

Some told the council of their concerns that the department would impose additional regulations that farmers would have to deal with, but the council added a line to the amendment to say that the department’s main purpose would be to defend and not to regulate.

The main uncertainty, however, is how much the new department might cost. This is one of the reasons why some have raised objections to the proposed department.

Council members, both those supporting and opposing the amendment, also had concerns about county finances.

“It’s hard to spend money building a government when we should just be taking that money and giving it to agricultural programs,” said council member Yuki Lei Sugimura, who voted against all of the charter amendments. , at a meeting on July 14.

Another question on the ballot asks whether the charter should be amended “to establish standards for interpreting and enforcing the charter, including requiring that a viable legal action be filed within 30 days seeking clarification where a conflict in the interpretation of the charter is identified? ”

The amendment clarifies how the board and administration could resolve legal disputes. In 2019, a dispute over charter interpretations arose when the council voted to settle a case involving the county’s use of injection well.

Another amendment to the charter would give the council more power in choosing the members of the Charter Commissionwho is responsible for revising the county charter once a decade.

Currently, the mayor appoints the 11 members of the commission, who are then confirmed by the council. If the charter amendment passes, the council will be able to appoint nine members and the mayor will have two.

Voters will also decide whether or not to raise the minimum property tax deposit to an affordable housing fund from 2% to 3%.

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