Some people were breathing a sigh of relief after yesterday’s Honolulu City Charter Commission meeting. The commissioners decided to defer Proposal 17, which would have repealed the Affordable Housing Fund, Clean Water and Natural Lands Fund, and Grants in Aid Fund as well as returned authorization for special fund creation back to the mayor with council approval. (Currently the council and mayor have the authority to create funds.)
In 2012 I opposed the resolution that set up the Grants in Aid Fund as a ballot question, and I continue to oppose the fund. It sets aside .5% of general fund revenue annually to be given away to certain nonprofit organizations. This fund has become a political candy pot for the council and was poorly implemented. In addition, we spend about $100 million on social equity programs every year. Mandates like this are simply bad fiscal policy.
Discussion on these specific funds expended to include creation of funds in general. Commissioners asked for clarification of the interpretation of wording in the charter before the last change was made in 2012. While fund creation may sound innocuous, we only need to look at the state to see how things can get out of hand.
The commission also discussed proposals related to the legislative branch, elections, terms of office and corporation counsel. One idea the commission seemed intrigued with was establishing council districts aligned with the six traditional moku, i.e., Kona, Ewa, Waianae, Waialua, Koolauloa and Koolaupoko. The main question related to this is how it would work with the federal law regarding one person one vote. (One person, one vote is why current political districts are based on population.)
Four proposals related to term limits were discussed. The commission is considering increasing the total number of years for mayor, city councilmembers and prosecuting attorney to a total of 12 years. Neighborhood board members currently have no term limit but would be included in the 12 year limit. The thought behind this is that there’s a steep learning curve, and it’s important to have experienced people and continuity in these positions. One point that was made clear with respect to increasing term limits is that it would not apply to current office holders.
The other major area discussed had to do with the Corporation Counsel. Proposals suggested that the office of corporation counsel and the prosecuting attorney be merged, corporation counsel be an elected position and a couple that would give city council the power to fire corporation counsel. Proposal #79 would require Board of Water Supply and HART contracts be approved by corporation counsel. This particular proposal went to the style committee and will likely be on the ballot. (The BWS and HART already submit contracts to corporation counsel for review.)
Several proposals will be researched further by various commissioners and brought up again, including #69 regarding runoffs for special elections.
The commission will meet again Thursday, February 4, and will cover city power, the mayor’s office, city departments under the managing director, planning and two proposals related to the fire department.
Here’s an updated list of Meeting topics to be covered at future meetings.