By MELISSA TANJI
WAILUKU — Maui County Council members heard from two sides during a Committee of the Whole meeting Tuesday on a proposal to ease the procedures for introducing initiatives for voters.
An advocate for initiative, Sean Lester, told the committee that Maui County’s requirements are seen as restrictive when compared to other local governments.
But Mercer “Chubby” Vicens said the issue already has been discussed and rejected by the Charter Commission, which had more than a year to review the issue.
The committee during its meeting Tuesday took no action on nine proposed charter amendments under review, but recessed to continue its discussions at 2:30 p.m. today. The meeting continues in the Council Chambers on the eighth floor of the Kalana O Maui building.
The full council also has scheduled action on proposed charter amendments at its regular meeting at 9 a.m. Friday.
“If there ever was a no-brainer as to an amendment to place on the ballot, this is it,” Lester said, advocating a less restrictive procedure for initiative.
Currently the county charter requires a group seeking to initiate a proposed law to file with the county clerk and within 30 days turn in petitions signed by 20 percent of the voters registered in the last general election.
The council is considering a proposal to allow 90 days to collect signatures and require signatures from only 10 percent of those who voted in the last election.
“It is important to have this amendment to put us on a level playing field, seeing that this right is afforded to all other citizens of the United States,” Lester said.
“Since the appointed Charter Commission will not allow this change, it is up to you as our elected officials to place this on the ballot in November,” he said.
But Vicens said a change to the initiative process was discussed at length by the Charter Commission during numerous public meetings.
“Why go 14 months and have 33 meetings, if someone’s going to change what has happened,” Vicens told The Maui News Wednesday.
He said the prolonged discussion of the initiative matter “wastes taxpayer money and time.”
Council Member Wayne Nishiki, who proposed the amendment on lowering the bar on initiative, took offense to Vicens’ comment about wasting taxpayer money and time.
“We’re just going to the process right now,” Nishiki told The Maui News. He said what the council is doing “is what the law reads.”
Vicens, vice president of A&B Properties-Maui Division, said he was speaking to the council on behalf of himself, A&B Properties and as a member of the Maui Contractors Association and the Maui Chamber of Commerce.
“I respect what he has on his plate,” Nishiki said. “I’m just trying to be fair to every single person in Maui County that has a suggestion.”
Molokai resident DeGray Vanderbilt disputed the credibility of Vicens’ testimony at the committee session.
“I don’t buy that last testimony,” he said, saying several written statements submitted by Vicens were “form letters.”
“Who knows who these people are?” Vanderbilt said about the signatures on the letters. He charged that the county government is “under control” of developers and special-interest groups.
Vicens also spoke against a proposed charter amendment, introduced by Council Member Jo Anne Johnson, that would allow the council to retain its own legal counsel. Currently, the county corporation counsel is assigned to provide legal advice to the council and the county administration.
“What you are doing is building in the fence,” Vicens said of the proposed amendment. He said it creates a feeling of animosity between the legislative and administrative branches of the county government.
Other testimony included support of Council Member Charmaine Tavares’ proposed amendment that would transfer the authority for issuing special management area permits from the three county planning commissions to the council.
Tavares recently said she would consider exempting Molokai and Lanai so those panels would retain final SMA authority on their islands. That concept has won support.
Dick Mayer, a member of the Kula Community Association, had several other suggestions for amendments for the council to consider.
One was to provide three-year terms on county boards and commissions, with the possibility of a one-term extension, limiting service on a board or commission to six years.
Mayer said the present five-year terms require a time commitment that discourages some residents from volunteering to serve.
The council is considering a number of amendments in addition to proposals already approved by the Charter Commission. To add more amendments to the general election ballot, the council would need to approve the proposals by resolution on two separate readings.
County Clerk Roy Hiraga said all charter-amendment questions need to be received by the state Office of Elections by Sept. 6.