LAHAINA - The Maui County Charter has often been described as the constitution of Maui County and as the most important document we have that defines the powers of our local government.
At intervals of ten years, members of a Charter Commission - appointed by the mayor and approved by the County Council - review the Maui County Charter, hold hearings, listen to proposed charter amendments, vote to accept or reject the amendment recommendations of the public and their fellow commissioners and then place the final recommended changes on the ballot for a vote by the electorate.
One issue the commission usually skirts is the highly controversial question of single-member districts, which theoretically provides important political influence to Molokai and Lanai - islands where residents feel passionately about the right to have their own council members who will provide them with a voice in their government.
Tamara Paltin, a lifeguard on the West Side, testifies against Amendment 6. “One of the things we know is that the union does not want this,” she said.
The issue of single-member districts can be likened to the third rail of Maui County politics - and as dangerous as politicians proposing changes in Social Security.
By the time the Charter Commission decided to meet on Monday, Dec. 12, at Lahaina Civic Center, the issue of single-member districts had been settled, with the panel beating back efforts led by Commissioner David DeLeon to change the existing system, or to have the issue placed before the voters.
With that decision taken, the public apparently moved on to other issues, such as Christmas shopping and Monday Night Football.
With just 12 shopping days and one full weekend left before Christmas, and the St. Louis Rams battling the Seattle Seahawks on ESPN, it was a field of dreams that failed when the commission met in Lahaina.
The meeting began at 6:02 and ended 6:51 p.m. - barely enough time for the commission's hardworking chair, Josh Stone, to take over duties from Vice-Chair Wayne Hedani, after Stone arrived late for the meeting.
This prompted Stone's promise to bring pizza next time (he is owner of Flatbread Pizza in Paia) to make up for his tardy entry
The meeting was held to allow testimony from the community regarding the 21 amendments to the charter the commission has proposed.
Among those attending the meeting were Commissioners Stacey Crivello, Frank DeRego Jr., Artemio Baxa, Hedani, Stone, Clifford Hashimoto, Linda Kay Okamoto, Flo Wiger, Yuki Lei Sugimura and DeLeon.
Representing the mayor was Executive Assistant Zeke Kalua. Ed Kushi provided legal support from the Office of the Corporation Counsel, and West Maui County Councilwoman Elle Cochran also attended.
Amendments ranged from increasing council members' term of office from two to four years (Amendment 1), to adding language expanding the duties of the director of the Department of Environmental Management to include areas such as natural resource protection and the development of policies and initiatives that integrate sustainable resource development (Amendment 19).
There were two testifiers at the meeting, and both raised important issues.
Tamara Paltin is a lifeguard on the West Side, primarily at D.T. Fleming Beach Park. She has been a lifeguard for ten years and serves as a captain on the weekends.
She testified against Amendment 6 that proposes the charter be amended to " include ocean rescue and safety to the Powers, Duties and Functions of the Fire Chief of the Department of Fire and Public Safety"
"One of the things we know is that the union does not want this. When we move, our contract has within it furloughs and pay cuts. We are going to be working alongside these guys (the Fire Department) with an inferior contract, and that is a little bit disturbing," she said.
Paltin addressed concerns about job safety, saying there were rumors lifeguards would have to work 12-hour shifts.
"I have one small child and I am expecting another," she told the commissioners.
"It's easy to say work 12-hour shifts when you are working in an air conditioned building. It's not like working an eight-hour shift, where you are in the sun and you can't sleep."
Leonard Nakoa addressed the commission after Paltin and began his testimony by saying, "The one I want to grumble about is amending Article 13 of the charter."
The amendment Nakoa referred to is proposed Amendment 10 that, if passed, would " add a provision which would require the Council to provide for Interactive Communications Access for all Council meetings for residents of Hana, Lanai, Molokai and other geographic areas as the Council deems appropriate and reasonable."
Nakoa urged the commission to "be sure you include Lahaina. We go all the way over to the other side, and I just start to talk and they are kicking me off the podium."
"It's hard to go to the other side. Make sure other geographical areas are covered, like Lahaina," he added.
With that, Chair Stone called for any additional testimony from the public.
"Come on, Lahaina - doesn't anyone want to testify. I drove all the way over here," he jokingly pleaded to the empty room.
Then, after a moment of confusion over possible late testimony, the meeting was unanimously adjourned.
For more information on the proposed charter amendments, call 270-7742, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.mauicounty.gov and access the Charter Commission through clicking "Mayor" and "Boards and Commissions."