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 2016 Charter Amendments - Pros and Cons ...


City and County of Honolulu
General Elections 2016
Charter Amendments
Pros and Cons


A “YES” vote means you are IN FAVOR of the amendment and the County Charter will be changed as proposed. A “NO” vote means you are against the amendment and the County Charter will not be changed as proposed. Blank votes are not counted. A simple majority of those voting is sufficient for the amendment to pass.

The following sums up the testimony submitted for and against each of the 20 ballot proposals. The full text of the proposals as well as information on each describing the current situation and what would change if a proposal is approved can be found in the booklet published by the Charter Commission and available on this website as well as at www.honoluluchartercommission.org

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#1. Question. Should the Police Commission have greater authority to suspend or dismiss the chief of police and have additional powers to investigate complaints concerning officer misconduct, and should the chief of police be required to submit a written explanation for his or her disagreement with the Commission?

SUPPORTERS SAY: Several recent high-profile incidents emphasize the need for increased public accountability from and oversight of the Commission. The public needs and deserves that officers be held accountable when they violate the law and/or internal policies governing their conduct. Any erosion of public trust will harm hard-working law-abiding officers.
All other government employee’s’ misconduct information becomes public if misconduct results in suspension or termination. Police should be held to the same – not higher just the same – standards as other government employees.


OPPONENTS SAY: The number of sustained complaints against police officers is very low, making this proposal unnecessary.
The effect of this amendment will be to severely limit the applicant pool for the police chief.
This proposal could lead to the politicization of the police departments and expensive lawsuits over improper termination of the Police Chief.
The Commission does not have the labor background and experience to determine if discipline meets standards supported by evidence, is reasonable, fair and thorough, and provides equal treatment for other employees in similar situations.


#2. Question. Should the Ethics Commission set the salaries of the Ethics Commission’s executive director and staff attorneys within specified limits?

SUPPORTERS SAY: City lawyers, apart from those of the Ethics Commission, have their salaries set by the Salary Commission. Ethics Commission salaries are set by ordinance and are lower than those of other city lawyers, which makes recruitment and retention difficult and may result in lower quality advice to the Ethics Commission.
Would avoid outside influence on salaries of attorneys of the Ethics Commission, so that the Executive Director can investigate possible ethics violations by other members of the City Administration, including the Mayor and City Council, without fearing punitive reductions in his/her salary or the salaries of other Ethics Commission attorneys.

OPPONENTS SAY: The Amendment may result in higher salaries for Ethics Commission attorneys, which would increase the budget needed to sustain the Commission.


#3. Question. Should the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney control its budget after it is approved by the City Council?

SUPPORTERS SAY: The Amendment would create a greater separation of the “Judiciary” (Prosecuting Attorney’s Office), Executive (Mayor) and Legislative (City Council) arms of the City government.
Unlike the heads of other City agencies, the Prosecuting Attorney is elected, as are the Mayor and Council members. For this reason the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney should control its own budget once initially approved by the City Council.
The Amendment will allow the Prosecuting Attorney to take action on any matter the office judges appropriate, without having to worry that if the Mayor or Council does not like his/her actions, they may punitively cut the budget of the Prosecuting Attorney’s Office

OPPONENTS SAY: Even if there is some emergency or suddenly reduced city revenues, the Amendment would prevent the Office of the Prosecuting Attorney from having its budget cut even if other agencies are required to cut their budgets.


#4. Question. Should a unified multi-modal transportation system be created by:
  • Forming a Rate Commission to annually review and recommend adjustments to bus and paratransit fares, rail fares and parking fees; ·
  • Placing operations and maintenance responsibilities for bus, paratransit and rail solely in the Department of Transportation Services and providing for the transfer of positions and legal rights and obligations relating to rail operations and maintenance from the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) to the Department of Transportation Services effective July 1, 2017; and ·
  • Clarifying the responsibility of the HART Board to establish policies, rules, and regulations regarding the development of the rail system, the internal management and organization of HART, and the allocation of decision-making authority between the Board and the agency’s executive director and staff, and amending the responsibilities of the HART Board to include determining the policies for approval of certain agreements with the federal, public or private entities?

SUPPORTERS SAY: This amendment gives the City Department of Transportation Services (DTS) the operation and maintenance of rail effective July 1, 2017, in addition to its present authority to run the bus and handy van service. DTS would become solely responsible for the integration and coordination of public transportation services. The public could then hold DTS, the Mayor and City Council accountable for any problems in the total transportation system. HART would be solely responsible for the construction of the rail system.

OPPONENTS SAY: There was no documented opposition to this amendment.


#5. Question. Should the Affordable Housing Fund be used to develop rental housing for persons earning 60 percent or less of the median household income, provided that the housing remains affordable for at least 60 years?

SUPPORTERS SAY: The current language is too restrictive, and the fund is not being drawn down for its intended purposes. Adjusting the affordable housing criteria will encourage the State and private housing development entities to partner with the City to expand affordable housing opportunities, allowing the moneys in the fund to be more fully utilized as originally proposed and resolve the issue of the state’s inability to provide leases “in perpetuity.”

OPPONENTS SAY: The voters recognized the need for the City to address the need for affordable rental housing and voted to approve the current Charter Section that created the Affordable Housing Fund, targeting households at 40% adjusted mean income (AMI),the most vulnerable and the most likely to become homeless. Such heavily subsidized housing should remain affordable in perpetuity. Various non-profits and developers are available to address the needs of less vulnerable low-income persons earning more than 40% AMI. Oahu will continue to have housing shortages in the future; affordable using will continue to be needed after 60 years.


#6. Question. Should departments responsible for the city’s infrastructure needs be required to prepare long-term plans?

SUPPORTERS SAY: The Department of Planning and Permitting issued a permit for an animal shelter in Waihee Wetland. Had they been educated about the related Hawaii Wetlands filtration system into Kaneohe Bay, for example, they might have supervised or monitored this development plans more closely.

OPPONENTS SAY: No testimony in opposition to the proposed amendment was received by the Commission.


#7. Question. Should the city use its powers to serve the people in a sustainable and transparent manner and to promote stewardship of natural resources for present and future generations, and should the city create an Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency?

SUPPORTERS SAY: The proposal creates a way to guarantee permanent funding for the new office through the City and County taking significant control over climate change impacts.
The Hawaii Island communities are particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts, and these impacts profoundly affect Hawaii’s environment and communities. Promoting stewardship of natural resources and creating an Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency with a dedicated staff has the potential to bring substantial amounts of money to O’ahu.
This new office creates an opportunity to educate the community on the need to view sustainability from the perspective of financial, environmental and societal measures, instead of just focusing on ones area of personal interest or benefit.

OPPONENTS SAY: Creating an office before defining clear goals also has the potential to result in data collection that is inefficient, inaccurate and not meaningful.
Missing from the Amendment are requirements for enacting policies that would offer protection to Honolulu’s citizens through long-range preparation and emphasizing resilience.
There are no guidelines for selecting the members of the commission who would provide information and guidance in the fields of climate change, resiliency and sustainability, nor how its accountability would be determined.


#8. Question: Should a new Department of Land Management responsible for the protection, development, and management of city lands be established?

SUPPORTERS SAY: There is no single department responsible for management of real property owned by the city or for real property transactions. Instead, these functions are dispersed among various departments. As introduced, the director of this new department would be appointed and could be removed by the mayor. All licenses, sales, and land use agreements whose term that involve city property and land shall be in compliance with the environmental laws of the State of Hawaii.

OPPONENTS SAY: It would create a city-level PLDC (Public Land Development Corporation) type role for this new department and would give too much power to the Director to initiate, negotiate, and implement partnerships with other governmental entities, nongovernment organizations or private parties without providing the general public sufficient opportunity to discuss or testify on how public lands, public spaces, and public facilities would be used. Creating another department to do the same things that other city employees are already doing adds to expenses, duplication, waste, and confusion.


#9. Question. Should a Honolulu Zoo Fund be established and funded by a minimum of one half of one percent of estimated annual real property taxes to pay for Honolulu Zoo expenses to assist the Honolulu Zoo in regaining its accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums?

SUPPORTERS SAY: The Honolulu Zoo lost its accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in part because the city does not have a consistent source of funding to pay for Honolulu Zoo expenses. The Honolulu Zoo is currently working to regain its Association of Zoos and Aquariums accreditation.

OPPONENTS SAY: No testimony was submitted against this proposal, but at least one letter to the editor in the Star Advertiser complained that this amendment would earmark yet more city monies, rather than allowing them to be available for many uses.


#10. Question. Should the mayor’s executive powers and the City Council’s legislative powers only be subject to exceptions specifically provided in the Charter and should the mayor and the City Council be given concurrent authority to establish funds when no appropriate funds of the same type exist and to propose amendments to the annual executive budget?

SUPPORTERS SAY: This proposal and its support was submitted by the Mayor’s office.

OPPONENTS SAY: Testimony in opposition came from the City Council Chair, who said the amendment may be unnecessary because the Mayor can already create funds, subject to City Council approval, provided there is dedicated funding available.


#11. Question. Should an approval process and an advisory commission for Clean Water Natural Lands Fund projects be established in the Charter?

SUPPORTERS SAY: A Charter amendment is necessary because the City’s Corporation Counsel interprets the existing 2006 Charter Amendment as requiring or mandating the City to “purchase” or “own” an interest in land when releasing monies from the Clean Waters Natural Lands Fund.

OPPONENTS SAY: There is no need for additional environmental commissions.


#12. Question. Should all boards and commissions, except for the Board of Water Supply, the board for the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) and any board or commission mandated by state or federal law, be reviewed periodically to determine whether they should be retained, amended or repealed?

SUPPORTERS SAY: This would subject all boards and commissions other than the Board of Water Supply and HART to periodic evaluation and review to determine whether they are fulfilling their required purposes.

OPPONENTS SAY: Boards and commissions would spend time and be encumbered with reviews and assessments rather than addressing their primary purposes.


#13. Question: Should the Grants in Aid Fund be the sole source (with certain designated exceptions) for city-funded grants to federal income tax-exempt nonprofit organizations that provide services to economically and/or socially disadvantaged populations or that provide services for the public benefit in the areas of the arts, culture, economic development or the environment?

All submitted testimony related to Grants in Aid were in opposition to an initial proposal to eliminate the fund entirely, along with the Affordable Housing and Clean Water and Natural Lands funds, both of which are addressed in other amendments. The Grants in Aid Fund was approved by voters on the ballot in 2012.
Currently, city-funded grants to nonprofit organizations are awarded by city departments and agencies through their own review processes. Additionally, the City Council awards cityfunded grants to nonprofit organizations for specific purposes, separate from the Grants in Aid Fund. To address the future of the fund, the proposed amendment would specify that the Grants in Aid Fund would be the sole source of city-funded grants and would be awarded only to federal income tax-exempt nonprofit organizations providing services to economically and/or socially disadvantaged populations or for the public benefit in the areas of the arts, culture, economic development or the environment.
Nonprofit organizations interested in receiving grants for providing services to economically and/or socially disadvantaged populations or for public benefit in the areas of the arts, culture, economic development or the environment would be required to go through the Grants in Aid Advisory Commission review process.


#14. Question. Should the deadline to hold a special election to replace the mayor, prosecutor or council members be extended from 60 to 120 days, and should the City Council be able to appoint a temporary member until a special election is held?

SUPPORTERS SAY: Testimony in support of this amendment was submitted by the City Clerk for the following reason:
Under the current timelines in the Charter, the fifteen days between the vacancy in office and the mandated state ballot mailing deadline is insufficient for: providing notice of and holding a special council meeting to call the election (six days); the subsequent candidate filing period (10 days) required under state law; and for the associated tasks of building the election database to enable the layout/printing and mailing of ballots to those voters by the deadline.

OPPONENTS SAY: No testimony was submitted in opposition to the proposal.


#15. Question: Should the term limit for the prosecuting attorney, the mayor and the council members be three consecutive four-year terms?

Present situation: The mayor and the council members are limited to two consecutive fouryear terms and there are no term limits for the prosecuting attorney.


  • Honolulu is a large and complex organization and the time spent learning about it can best be put to use over a longer term.
  • The current limit of two four-year terms is too short given the learning curve and need for effectiveness and therefore three four-year terms is more reasonable.
  • The charter currently doesn’t specific a term limit for the prosecuting attorney.


  • Voters have spoken in favor of eight years, not six, not ten, not twelve.
  • Term limits should not be higher for the mayor, councilmembers, and prosecuting attorney than for the governor and lieutenant governor.
  • The prosecuting attorney needs certain qualifications. Not everyone can be prosecuting attorney; term limits should not be imposed for this position.
  • Term limits should apply to all boards and commissions authorized by the city.


#16. Question. Should certain city departments be responsible for their own program planning and small infrastructure design and construction projects, and should the powers, functions, and duties of the Department of Environmental Services be updated and expanded to emphasize resource recovery and include the planning, engineering, design, and construction of all of its projects?

SUPPORTERS SAY: This amendment will transfer responsibilities for projects to those departments more closely affected by their utilization. It will allow the Department of Design and control to utilize its limited resources for the use of its major function.

OPPONENTS SAY: There will no longer be one Department with a coordinated oversight of all city department projects.


#17. Question. Should the mayor have the authority to delegate the signing of documents to certain other city officers?

SUPPORTERS SAY: This proposal allows for more efficiency in instances when the mayor is unavailable for signature (e.g., traveling, illness, enacting other city business).

OPPONENTS SAY: No testimony has been submitted against this proposal, nor to our knowledge have individuals spoken out against it in other venues.


#18. Question. Should the Fire Commission be expanded from five to seven members, and should the fire chief’s powers, duties and functions be updated to reflect current services?

SUPPORTERS SAY: These services are already being provided. This amendment authorizes an existing condition. Expansion of duties would indicate a need for the additional commission members.

OPPONENTS SAY: What is the expense of two more members?.


#19 Question. Should the requirement be repealed that no more than five of the City Council Reapportionment Commission’s nine members be from the same political party?


  • It has been about 20 years since county elections became non-partisan.
  • The current charter provision is a vestige of another age and should conform to this reality.
  • During the last reapportionment, it was discovered that five of the proposed members were members of the same party, and one member, to serve on the commission, had to resign his party membership.
  • The commission also had to verify, with the parties, whether its members were members of a particular party. That information is confidential.


  • Though the election for charter commission is non-partisan, the appointees to the Commission may not be nonpartisan.
  • If there is a majority of reapportionment Commissioners from a single party, it is possible to draw districts in such a way that opponents to the majority party are sequestered in just a few districts, leading to district maps that are skewed towards one party. In effect this may lower or even eliminate the competition for seats. This process is called “gerrymandering.” To ensure fair representation the number of Commissioners from a single party should be limited to five.


#20. Question.Should the Charter be amended for housekeeping amendments (i) to conform to current functions and operation, (ii) to conform to legal requirements, (iii) to correct an inadvertent omission, and (iv) for clarity?
  1. Require the books and records of all city departments be open to public inspection;
  2. Require the Department of the Corporation Counsel to update the Charter by July 1 of the year after the election at which Charter amendments proposed by the Charter Commission are approved by the electorate;
  3. Require the Charter Commission to submit amendments to the Office of the City Clerk five working days before the deadline for ballot questions to be submitted to the state Chief Election Officer;
  4. Require that all written contracts of the Board of Water Supply and the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation be approved by the Department of Corporation Counsel for form and legality; and
  5. Require that the city centralized purchasing practices conform to the state procurement code.

SUPPORTERS SAY: This amendment would bring city ordinances into better consistency with its own policies and with State law; it would also clarify important deadlines.

OPPONENTS SAY: There was no opposition to this amendment.


The League of Women Voters, a nonpartisan organization, encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy, and influences public policy through education and advocacy.

League of Women Voters of Honolulu
49 South Hotel Street, Room 314
Honolulu, HI 97813

General Election Tuesday, November 8, 2016
polls open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
October 10 -- Last day to register to vote at any authorized registration site
October 18 –- Absentee ballots begin mailing
October 25 -- Early walk-in locations open
November 1 –- Deadline to request a mail ballot
November 5 –- General Election absentee walk-in ends.


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