WAILUKU, Maui - Dissatisfaction with how development is proceeding is driving many of the proposals for rewriting portions of the Maui County Charter, now undergoing its 10-year review.
Even Mayor James "Kimo" Apana thinks some fixes are needed in the county's planning process. Speaking at a meeting last month in Kihei, the mayor said final authority over special management area permits should be removed from the county's planning commissions. He said the commissions should serve in an advisory capacity when handling SMA permit applications needed for shoreline areas, with the County Council having the final say.
"They were supposed to help the council go out into the public, get in touch with the neighborhood areas, and report back to the council," Apana said at the July 25 meeting convened by the Maui County Charter Commission. "But now they have been given final authority with no real responsibility to anyone but themselves."
The mayor made his comments in the context of recent controversies over a residential development on Pa'ia beachfront land and a commercial development in Lahaina.
Kahu Charles Kauluwehi Maxwell Sr. of Pukalani, a Native Hawaiian cultural specialist, said yesterday the growing dissent over the county's handling of development on Maui goes back to other decisions made to allow developments in Makena and elsewhere. He agrees that the planning commissions, appointed by the mayor with the council's consent, should have an advisory function for permits.
"The council is being paid to do this job and they are answerable to the people. The Planning Commission is answerable only to the mayor who appointed them. That's why we are having all these problems," said Maxwell yesterday.
Although the mayor won't submit a formal package of proposed charter revisions until next month, Apana has said he also will seek an amendment that would set aside 1 percent of property tax revenues for a land acquisition fund to buy beach properties and other land for public use.
The 11-member commission reviews the charter, which establishes the structure and mechanisms of county government.
Commission Chairwoman Terryl Vencl said once the public meetings are done, the panel will hear from Apana's department heads and from experts about how some of the issues brought up for consideration are being handled in other communities.
By January, the commission will have narrowed down the list of proposed amendments and will go back to the public for more comments, said Vencl, executive director of the Maui Hotel Association. A final list of proposed changes will be submitted to the County Clerk's Office and offered to voters in the 2002 election.
Commission Vice Chairman Sean McGlaughlin, who heads the Akaku public access TV station on Maui, said the formal charter review is the public's chance to reinvent government or simply fine-tune what's already in place.
Both McGlaughlin and Vencl agree that one of the main themes of public testimony so far has been concern about the county's planning process and water issues.
Increasing citizen participation in government is another recurring theme, McGlaughlin said.
Suggestions have included election reforms such as simpler initiative and referendum provisions, and use of "canoe" districts, which combine communities on different Islands into a single voting district, or other means to allow voters of a particular area to pick their own council representative. Under the current system, candidates run from a residency district but are elected in a countywide vote.
Other charter amendments proposed by citizens include a multi-year county budget instead of a single-year spending plan, and elimination of the five-term limit for County Council members.
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