Honolulu Charter Amendments – Blank vs. “No” Vote

Some people are recommending “no” votes on all 20 Honolulu charter amendments.  The questions may seem overwhelming, but a straight “no” without understanding each question is irresponsible in my opinion.

The first thing to understand about voting on the charter amendments is that a blank vote doesn’t mean “no” or “yes.”  Here’s what the charter says about voting on amendments:

Section 15-103. Approval of Amendment or Revision -- 

No amendment or revision of this charter shall be effective 
unless approved by a majority of the voters voting thereon.

A blank vote is just blank and doesn’t count.  (Note that the state has different rules.  For state constitutional amendments to pass, a majority of the votes have to be “yes,” excluding blank and over votes, and more than 50% of the voters have to vote “yes” including blanks and over votes.  If more than 50% of the voters leave a state question blank, it acts as a “no” vote.)

Next it’s important to realize and acknowledge that these questions deserve thoughtful consideration.  If the majority of votes are “no,” opportunities for improvement in some areas of our city government will be missed.

For example, question 3 would allow salaries of staff attorneys of the Honolulu Ethics Commission (EC) to be set at a rate comparable to that of other attorneys within the city.  A “no” vote keeps the status quo, which makes it difficult for the EC to hire and retain a good attorney.  (They currently only have one on-staff counsel that this would apply to.)

Some people have pointed out that many of the issues behind these questions should not even be in the charter, and that is a valid point.  The Honolulu Charter Commission did consider rewriting the entire charter and putting just one massive question on the ballot.  I can understand why they didn’t do that, but we should look at simplifying our charter.  That would likely cut down on amendments as well as misunderstandings of what each amendment would do.

One other thing to consider regarding blank votes is that they do make a statement.  If the blanks outnumber the “yes” and “no” votes, perhaps it’s time to rethink the manner in which we make amendments.

Please also note that this process is not done after the election.  The Honolulu Charter Commission will have at least one more meeting prior to the end of the year.  At that time, they will prepare a final report that will be given to the next commission.  Testimony will be taken, and I encourage people to submit comments.  You can sign up for commission updates by sending an email to cclcharter@honolulu.gov.

Correction:  this post originally incorrectly stated the second part of the test required for passage of state constitutional amendments.

20 Charter Amendments – Recommendations and Further Research

For some people, the election can’t come soon enough.  For others, such as voters who are still trying to decipher the 20 charter amendment ballot questions, the question is:  Will I have enough time to do research and make an informed decision?

I attended many of the Honolulu Charter Commission meetings and have put together what I consider to be important points about each question along with my suggestions on how to vote for each one.  That list is available at Hawaii Advocates For Consumer Rights.  (Thank you to Scott Foster for helping me to get this information out.)

For people who are interested in doing their own extended research, the following list may help guide you as you go through the Charter Commission’s website.  For each question, I’ve listed the proposal(s) upon which the questions were based and who introduced them.  You’ll need these numbers to trace through the minutes and testimonies.

  • Question 1 regarding the police commission – #18 (Senator Will Espero), #31 (Commissioner Kevin Mulligan), #159 (Senator Laura Thielen), C-1 and C-2 (Commissioner Mulligan)
  • Question 2 regarding staff attorney salaries for the Honolulu Ethics Commission – #39 (Honolulu Ethics Commission)
  • Question 3 regarding the Prosecuting Attorney’s budget #29 (Commissioner Donna Ikeda)
  • Question 4 regarding HART and rail – #76 and #76A (Managing Director Roy Amemiya, Jr.)
  • Question 5 regarding the Affordable Housing Fund – #3 (Councilmember Elefante) and #122 (American Planning Association)
  • Question 6 regarding long-term plans – #38 and #120 (American Planning Association), #54 (Commissioner Cheryl Soon)
  • Question 7 regarding an Office of Climate Change – #48 (Commissioner Soon) and #73 (Maxine Burkett)
  • Question 8 regarding a new Department of Land Management – #C-5 (Commissioner Soon), #106 (Paulette Tam)
  • Question 9 regarding the zoo fund – letter from Council Chair Martin and C-3 (Commissioner Guy Fujimura)
  • Question 10 regarding executive and legislative powers – #78 (Managing Director Roy Amemiya, Jr.)
  • Question 11 regarding the Clean Water and Natural Lands Fund – #116 (Trust for Public Land)
  • Question 12 regarding reviews of boards and commissions – #40 (Commissioner Rick Tsujimura)
  • Question 13 regarding the Grants in Aid Fund – #C-7 (Commissioner initiated)
  • Question 14 regarding special elections deadline – #2 (City Clerk Glen Takahashi)
  • Question 15 regarding term limits – #44 (Commissioner Paul Oshiro)
  • Question 16 regarding minor construction projects – #77 (Managing Director Roy Amemiya, Jr.)
  • Question 17 regarding the mayor’s signature – #80 (Managing Director Roy Amemiya, Jr.)
  • Question 18 regarding the Honolulu Fire Commission – #86 & #87 (Managing Director Roy Amemiya, Jr.)
  • Question 19 regarding the reapportionment commission – #35 (Commissioner Oshiro)
  • Question 20 “housekeeping”
    • a – #23 (Civil Beat Law Center)
    • b – #34 (Commissioner Oshiro)
    • c – #36 (Commissioner Oshiro)
    • d – #79 (Managing Director Roy Amemiya, Jr.)
    • e – #90 (Managing Director Roy Amemiya, Jr.)

If you have questions on any of the proposed amendments, please leave a comment for me.  I’d be happy to try and help.

Update October 25, 2016, – correction and clarification.  It was noted that the description of Question 1 in the pamphlet provided by the Honolulu Charter Commission contains an error.  It indicates the chief can “only be removed for continuous maladministration.”  The charter actually makes it clear that this should not be construed as the only cause sufficient for removal of the chief.  I do not know what the impact of this error will have if this amendment passes, but I still recommend a “yes” vote.

Under Question 13 regarding the grants-in-aid process (GIA), certain city grants that currently have a process, e.g., the Clean Water and Natural Lands fund, would continue to go through that process.  Others, such as Leeward coast and Office of the Mayor on Economic Development, would be required to go through the GIA process.