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Unpacking yesterday’s marathon County Council meeting


Chair White’s proposal that would allow a majority of five votes to fire staffers of other council members was filed by a unanimous vote. While that means the language of that particular legislation is dead, the content, however — firing council aides, was referred to committee, so it is possible that the subject will surface again in a somewhat different guise.

Prior to the vote White provided an alternate version of the original proposal, which his colleagues declined to consider, as they voted against the original measure. The alternate version may yet come up again. It would insert the word “cause” and also require a vote of six council members to allow a majority to vote to terminate staff employed by individual council members.

Responding to a request for comment from MAUIWAtch White wrote “County Communication 17-484 is not about politics like it has been portrayed in testimony. The intention here is to ensure the safety of all employees who work in the Legislative Branch and to maintain a professional work environment. ….. This legislation was simply to start the conversation regarding taking official action against employees whose actions are not consistent with established workplace policies and the law.

I am fully open to other legislative proposals, but the bottom line is that it must address the safety of all employees. Now that this subject matter has been referred to committee, it is my hope that further discussions can take place among members to find a solution we can all agree upon.”

Council member King said during a break that she would have preferred if the matter had been dropped entirely.

Comment about Taylor by council members in the discussion phase seemed to indicate that he has the necessary five members to retain his post. The matter was not voted on but will be heard again — in the Policy Economic Development and Agriculture Committee chaired by member Sugimura.

Sugimura responded to a MAUIWatch inquiry saying, “The Item will be taken up in my committee meeting on Dec. 11th. I am requesting the Mayor to attend, so we can learn more about his decision. Based upon the full committee’s recommendation I will either take it up at the next council meeting on Dec 15th with a discharge request or take it up on January 5, 2018.”

It is also not certain if the proceedings will be open to the public or closed as a personnel matter.

The council members also wanted to seek the advice of an independent attorney regard the meaning of charter language that covers the mayor’s ability to remove a department head. The mayor has already indicated that no matter what the council decides with regard to Taylor, that he (the Mayor) believes he has the authority to keep him on paid leave until the mayor’s term expires at the end of 2018 and substitute another person who is more to his liking.

Though Bills 91 & 92 were paired on the agenda, the council moved to separate them and consider them separately. Bill 91 passes with a vote of 5-4. Bill 92, a measure that could have impacted thousands of long-term condo owners and tenants, was defeated 4-5. Chair White voted with the minority to defeat this measure. The five NAY votes were: Atay, Cochran, Guzman, King (and wonders never ceasing) White.

The most dramatic and contentious moments came late in the Monday afternoon session as exchanges between first deputy corporation Counsel Richelle Thomson (who was soon joined by Patrick Wong the Corporation Counsel) became strained.

The exchange between Cochran and Wong was heated.

Cochran, attempting to move the much-discussed proposals off the dime, retraced the lengthy process, the prior meetings and reams of testimony already heard on the subject and then turned her sites, and aimed both barrels on the Corp Counsel’s office – which she suggested was in cahoots with the opponents of the measure to scuttle it. Or at least the county lawyers and the suits for the sunscreen industry produced language in their various bullet points which was suspiciously similar.

These suggestions were emphatically and vigorously denied by Wong who – in straightforward language said it was the job of his department to defend the county from future legal action that might result if the law was passed containing conflicts with existing law or jurisdiction.

Watch the action for yourself:

He said there was a similarity between the testimony of the opponents and the views stated by his office because the views were similar.

He also said (heatedly) that it was Cochran herself that had wanted the public in on the deal from the start so everything was in open view, and that required Wong to lay out the legal reasoning in a very public manner (which he would have prefered not to do) so that it was all readily available to anyone, including the opponents who might care to read and or use it.

Case closed. Point made.

Chairman White, in a deft moment of diplomacy, managed to diminish, if not entirely diffuse the tension between the parties by suggesting an alternative approach, similar to one the council used when they were deliberating on styrofoam containers ban.Considerable friction also existed that that time but the parties eventually came to a meeting of the minds.

He presented a persuasive alternative which could take a little longer but might produce better results because it would be more inclusive and present a wider range of information.

White managed to get Cochran to agree to a delay, which could run from a few weeks to a few months, to assemble a broader look at the legal questions and get the office of corp counsel at least nominally on board with the broader views of the council thinking and prior research.

The comments by the chair and several of the members strongly suggested that they were willing to support a sunscreen sales ban if the gnarly legal details like jurisdiction and enforcement could be sorted out. The outcome was Cochran’s office will make sure Wong’s office is well supplied with additional information and legal citations he may not yet have considered.

Likewise, the chair got Wong to acknowledge that it was probably possible to include a wider range of thought, particularly if those citations and legal precedents were already in hand.

So just as fast as they had gone up, tempers came back into the semi-normal adult range, or at least below the boiling point.

The good part: If not smiles all around, at least a sense of cooperation across a spectrum of views. The bad part: Tense-tense-tense and bad blood. If you saw it you won’t forget it.

Victims rights passed 9-0

The six-month moratorium on sand mining moratorium in areas believed to have native burials passed first reading unanimously. There was extensive discussion between the meaning of an exemption (which mean the bill did not apply to a subject property at all) and a waiver which meant it did apply but the applicant had to complete the process and demonstrate conclusively that they were not subject to the law. A very tight timeline was laid out for review. Owners of TMK’S in any of the affected areas have until noon on Fri. Dec. 8 to submit paperwork in, and earlier would be better. The subject will come up again at the council’s next meeting on Dec. 15.



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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