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Unpacking yesterday’s marathon County Council meeting

The Maui County Council meeting of Friday, December 1 continued on Monday, December. 4 was a marathon session with a packed agenda of 51 items. On Friday over 90 Mauians showed up to testify in person on a shopping list of controversial proposals in a comment period which began at 9 in the morning and extended to nearly 7 at night. With public testimony completed, the council -all nine members present – sat down on Monday morning in a continuation of the prior meeting. The second installment lasted from 9 am to 3 pm.

During the public testimony phase on Friday, lawmakers listened to a seemingly endless parade of commentary that was often critical, highly charged and frequently deeply emotional.

The items drawing the most comments were:

* (17-484) CHANGES TO COUNCIL STAFF DISMISSAL PROCESS:
A proposal put forward by Chairman Mike White to allow the council chair and members of a majority to fire staffers of individual council members without stating reason or cause. There was extensive testimony on the measure which was unanimously opposed by dozens of speakers.

*(17-167) PROPOSED BAN ON SAND MINING
A measure calling for a six month moratorium on sand mining in areas believed to have native burials drew extensive testimony which was wide-ranging, with many believing a relatively short pause to assess the situation was reasonable while others felt it would interfere with a variety of construction projects and uses and was likely to drag on beyond the modest time frame.

*(17-179) SUNSCREEN BAN FOR PRODUCTS CONTAINING HARMFUL CHEMICALS
Legislation on a sunscreen ban on the sale and use of products containing ingredient oxybenzone and other chemicals believed harmful to reef and ocean life drew heated testimony on Friday from both sides. Those in favor of the measure pointed to informational handouts circulated by the state advising against these products, while high powered lawyers representing various consumer products trade organizations asserted that no scientific evidence of actual harm had yet to be produced. Adding to the drama was the position of the county’s own attorney – the corporation counsel’s office – which in seeking to protect the county from future legal action managed to rile the advocates of the measure by hewing to a line much closer to industry reps than to environmental activists.

*(17- 482) STATUS OF DIRECTOR OF WATER SUPPLY
The tenure of water director Dave Taylor, presently on paid administrative leave due to unstated differences with the mayor was also on the agenda. Testimony heard on Friday all favored retention of Taylor to continue as an appointed director until the end of the term of the present mayor.

*(Bills No. 91 & 92 (2017)) REAL PROPERTY TAXATION ON CONDOMINIUMS
Bills 91 & 92 were paired. Though 91 was relatively innocuous, testifiers pointed out that changes could adversely impact long term condo rentals, their owners and tenants with dramatic unintended consequences for thousands of condo owners and tenants.

*(17-182) ENFORCEMENT OF RIGHTS FOR VICTIMS AND WITNESSES

Only a few testified, but very moving on the indignities endured by victims of violent crimes and their families in their interaction with law enforcement and the legal system.

ACTION ON THE 8TH FLOOR

The Friday session which began with a packed gallery in the morning which dwindled to a few hardcore as the hour grew late. The leadership exhausted from hours of being harangued scheduled a continuation of the discussion phase of the meeting for Monday morning, Dec. 4.

What a difference a weekend makes.

The contentious and abrasive tone of Friday’s public comments contrasted dramatically with a polite, civil and collegial session on Monday where all of the same items came up again for review and discussion by the lawmakers. The meeting chaired by White was notable for its conciliatory tone and apparent desire of those present to find a way to hear and respond to the wishes of other members of the body.

Not surprisingly several members noted that their phones had rung nonstop through the weekend as their constituents weighed in with their own thoughts. Said one member, “You bet we got an earful.

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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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