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Maui County Council Organizes in Long Contentious Meeting

View from the press table shows a very full house even after hours of testimony (Photo S. Halas)
In what surely must have been one of the longest, strangest, best attended public meetings in memory the Maui County Council organized yesterday and selected member Mike White as chair by a vote of 5 Yes (Carroll, Crivello, Hokama, Sugimura, White) to 4 No (Atay, Cochran, Guzman, King). The Jan. 2 meeting, a date specifically stipulated in the County Charter, began at 2 p.m. and adjourned 3:36 a.m. the following morning. Also, as stipulated by the charter, the mayor was the presiding officer until White was selected late in the evening. With White presiding the new council took up other organizational matters, including sensitive personnel decisions in executive session.

But the actual work of the meeting did not begin until 8 pm after nearly 70 members of the public had given testimony, almost all of it strongly against White.

Public testimony came in many forms and tones, some polite and respectful, other hostile and angry, but nearly all of it touched on the perceived shortcomings of the process including the early organizing prior to the stipulated Jan. 2nd date. Many who spoke said the jump the gun organization was orchestrated by White and his supporters. There were multiple allegations of rigging the committees to favor White’s 5-4 majority both in their composition and number. Also at issue was the use of White’s personal web site with the URL “council.org” to give the impression that he was doing “official” county business in the name of the council. Many speakers were unhappy with the summary discharge of a number of long time Office of Council Services employees, and there were other assorted charges of collusion, violations of the Sunshine Law, “Old Boy” practices, non-pono behavior…. and indeed a list too long to summarize in a chamber that had seldom seen such prolific or vocal testimony.

Those speaking in support of White were few (3) and they stressed his leadership abilities and experience. Patrick Wong, County Corporation Counsel, cited a 1998 legal opinion which he said cleared White and his colleagues of any wrong doing or ethical violations by organizing early. Council member Guzman noted that the opinion cited was currently under challenge and might be subject to revision in the not too distant future.

White on the hot seat for hours during the public testimony portion of the meeting spent much of his time looking at his cellphone and texting, to the point where several members of the public giving testimony had to ask him to stop playing with his phone and listen to what was being said. Asked during a break why he was so obsessed with his phone White replied he was receiving a steady stream of encouraging texts from supporters not attending the meeting. “Everybody likes a few ‘Attaboys’,” he said.

The meeting capped weeks of behind the scenes wrangling which began only a few days after the November election when White announced his majority, and continued to gain momentum in the following weeks on the internet and in the press as those who had voted for new faces and a more transparent way of doing business realized that despite their high vote totals in the election they were not going to be the majority– andt in fact under the proposed new scheme of things they might be cut entirely out of the decision-making process by a new committee designations which shrunk the size of most committees to five members, and stacked each committee so that the four minority members would never have a majority in any of them.

The vocal outpouring of public indignation seemed to have little impact on the actual outcome, though the minority proposed amendments laying out every possible alternate scenario (including Carroll as chair, Guzman as chair, Cochran as Chair, King as chair, and other motions and amendments to delay or change the identity of the new chair, all of the efforts were unsuccessful and failed to get the five votes needed to prevail.)

What did happen as a result of the public testimony was that the committee structure was revised upward to have more members.

As presently proposed there are now eight committees. They are Budget & Finance (9 members); Housing, Human Services, Transportation (7 members); Infrastructure and Environment (7 members); Land Use (9 members); Parks, Recreation, Energy and Legal (9 members); Planning (7 members); Policy, Economic Development and Agriculture (9 members) and Water Resources (7 members).

To see a draft of the substitute committee structure and membership resolution as posted late last night including the chairs, vice chairs and revised membership click on http://mauicounty.us/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Committee.pdf

The committees and their composition begin on page 6 of the document. Strike out in red means deleted, underlined in red means added.

This morning it is not yet clear if this is the final version of this measure or whether there will be additional changes.

Editor’s Note: The council will have a public hearing on the committee structure resolution, so it is not final.

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About Susan Halas

Susan Halas is a Senior Political Contributor at MAUIWatch. She has followed Hawaii politics since 1976 when she moved to the Valley Isle. She was formerly a staff writer for the Maui News as well as other local print and digital publications.

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