It’s been well reported that in early May, the County of Maui’s Special Committee on County Governance approved a recommendation that Maui County move to a “county manager” form of government. We would still have an elected mayor, but the power to hire and fire department heads would move to a county manager, who in turn would answer to the Maui County Council.
“Though politically influential interests are powerful in both Strong Mayor and County Manager governments, the absence of elections allows a County Manager the freedom to foster innovation, concentrate on management instead of political activities, and invest in long-term, community-wide solutions,” stated the committee’s Majority Report. “Generally, a County Manager is more likely to adopt comprehensive policies.”
But what isn’t so well known is that there was also a Minority Report. Though unsigned, the report was written by committee member David DeLeon, the government affairs director for the Realtors Association of Maui, who is also a former Maui News reporter and aide to Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa. It represents the views of the five committee members who don’t want such a radical change in our county government (though only three of them actually voted against the county manager proposal, which prevailed with six committee members voting for it).
This Minority Report is controversial. In fact, The Maui News reported on June 25 that Special Committee Vice Chairperson Madge Schaefer filed a Sunshine Law complaint against its release to the County Council. “The vice chairwoman of a special committee that narrowly recommended a change from the current mayor-council form of government to a system that includes a county manager has lodged a Sunshine Law complaint over the filing of a ‘Minority Report, with the County Council,” The Maui News reported. “Madge Schaefer filed the complaint June 8 with the Office of Information Practices, saying that the Minority Report ‘flagrantly ignores the purpose and intent’ of the Sunshine Law, which calls for the ‘public’s business to be conducted in public, with opportunities for public comment.'”
In The Maui News article, committee members like DeLeon and Chairperson Tony Takitani say the report is mere “testimony” and deny that giving it to the County Council violated the state’s open government law. The Office of Information Practices has yet to issue any sort of ruling on that complaint, but in the meantime we’ve obtained the Minority Report. In just seven pages, it lays out the reasoning behind those committee members who prefer the county’s current form of government:
Fundamentally, the minority does not agree that changing our form of government is necessary to achieve improvements in our County government nor that such a major re-structuring will necessarily result in improved management, governance or continuity of leadership. Indeed, there was no objective evidence offered to the Committee that supports the contention that changing to a council manager form of government will improve the management and the operation of the County.
But the Minority Report also lists a few recommendations for reforms:
• Council approval of all department heads.
• Tightening the qualifying criteria for departmental director appointments.
• Amending charter requirements that all communications between the Council and the Administration go through the Mayor, so that Council Members will be able to speak directly with department heads without first receiving approval from the Mayor.
• Clearing up ambiguities in the budget process, while being cautious to not add unnecessary inefficiencies to the management of departments.
At the May 9, 2016 Special Committee hearing, Chairperson Tony Takitani suggested attaching the Minority Report to the Majority Report, but the committee meeting minutes show it went nowhere:
CHAIR TAKITANI: We haven’t reached that one yet, ’cause I’d also like to if it’s okay with the Committee, attach the minority report but if there is strong opposition to that I won’t do that.
MEMBER [KIMO] HAYNES: I’m opposed to that.
CHAIR TAKITANI: Why?
And that’s the extent of the discussion. No one on the committee answered Takitani’s question, and they quickly moved on to other matters.
We actually like the Majority proposal to institute a county manager form of government in Maui County (click here for our primer on the issue). But in the interest of giving Maui County residents a complete picture of the thinking behind one the biggest potential changes in County Government in over a generation–and the fact that the committee’s proposal could appear on the November ballot–we’re posting the complete text of the Minority Report below.
MINORITY REPORT FROM MEMBERS OF THE MAUI COUNTY COUNCIL’S SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON COUNTY GOVERNANCE
May 9, 2016
The following statement is offered by the five members of the County Council’s Special Committee on County Governance (the Committee) who voted to not support the draft charter amendment proposed by the six-member majority. This statement is being offered because we, the minority, do not support the accepted Committee proposal and want to place our objections on the record.
Committee Establishment and Findings
The Committee was established to research the question of whether “establishing a county manager form of government for the County of Maui would improve management and operation of County government” and to “make written recommendations to the Council on whether the Charter should be amended to establish a county manager form of government and, if so, how the form should be structured…” In its report to the Council, the Committee found that “County governance must be capable of addressing the complexities of Maui County’s culturally and economically diverse community, as well as efficiently managing an annual budget exceeding $600 million” and that “there is a need for continuity of leadership, separate from election cycles, and an assurance that best management practices will be implemented across all County departments.”
Fundamentally, the minority does not agree that changing our form of government is necessary to achieve improvements in our County government nor that such a major re-structuring will necessarily result in improved management, governance or continuity of leadership. Indeed, there was no objective evidence offered to the Committee that supports the contention that changing to a council manager form of government will improve the management and the operation of the County. The Committee did receive testimony from a number of citizens, many of whom offered their opinion that a change in governmental structure was called for; that the council-manager form has worked well in numerous mainland communities and therefore, it should work well here; and that the council-manager structure will result in a more efficient, more effective, and less costly government. Those statements were counter-balanced by other citizens who held the opposite opinion. Generally, these were statements of opinion and no objective evidence was given to support those positions. Seeking a more objective analysis of the question, the Committee reviewed the available academic research on the topic. Detailed reviews of the academic literature on this topic showed that changing our form of government would not necessarily improve the quality of government and could instead lead to a decrease in civic engagement.
Reviews of the Academic Literature
Probably the most authoritative statement on this topic in the current academic literature comes from Professor Jered B. Carr, chair of the Department of Public Administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The scholarly Public Administration Review published Carr’s 2015 paper What have we learned about the performance of council-manager government? A Review and Synthesis of the research.
Carr’s review of the existing literature basically states that while the research to date shows some balance of strengths and weaknesses between council-manager and mayor-council forms, in the end the existing academic research “does not support the contention that there is a difference in the general operational effectiveness of the organizations attributable to the form of government.” In other words, “Studies do not show a strong correlation between effectiveness in core functions and form of governance.”
The same finding is expressed in a 2015 study published by the Cincinnati Research Institute, entitled Governing Cincinnati: Considerations and Opportunities (Kimberly Nelson and Carl Stenberg, University of Cincinnati):
“There has been a considerable amount of research on form of government and its relationship to various aspects of local government performance, but there is little conclusive evidence that one form is superior to another. Research is also lacking on whether institutional choices other than form influence performance, such as the way council members are elected or the presence or absence of mayoral veto authority. Basically, form of government is only one of a number of factors that affect municipal performance outcomes and influence public opinion.”
In a 2004 article in the magazine Governing, Senior Editor Alan Ehrenhalt points to a cyclical pattern in municipalities seeking the right form of government. He points to mid-sized cities that had recently shifted from council-manager systems to a mayor-council form (Oakland, Cincinnati, Hartford, St. Petersburg, Richmond, Sioux Falls and Spokane, and San Diego, and to El Paso, which went the other way.)
“What’s clear from all the recent charter reform developments – and especially those in El Paso, San Diego, and Dallas – is that the disparate advocates of urban charter reform are pleading for the same thing: a local government with the virtues of a successful modern private enterprise. The paradox is that they offer wildly different schemes for how to create it.”
“The truth is there is no perfect system for all cities and all seasons. Almost any set of rules can work under the right circumstances. Phoenix has done extraordinarily well under a rather strict system of city-manager government. Chicago has prospered under the relatively benign political autocracy of the Daley family.
“Political problems, being largely problems of human nature, no arrangement of duties is going to solve them all. In a great many cities, ‘reform’ is always going to consist of whatever system hasn’t been tried there lately.”
The Maui County Cost of Government Commission has also issued its findings on this subject, with which the Committee’s minority wholeheartedly agrees. While the Commission’s report deserves a thorough review by the Council, the well written statement basically focused on “the cost of government” aspects of the proposal and says there is no objective evidence to support the claim that changing the County’s form of government will “necessarily result” in a more efficient, effective and less costly government.
Various Aspects of the Majority Proposal
In their verbal presentation of a Temporary Investigative Group’s findings, TIG members (who were exclusively members of the majority) spoke of the guidance they received from the Richard Wittenberg, former County Executive for both the City of Santa Clara and Ventura County. Wittenberg warned them that the chances of getting a perfectly operating government from such major change on the first try would be remote. The County should be prepared to make continual refinements to the structure over an unspecified period of time. Wittenberg reportedly recommended that the County consider establishing the equivalent of a permanent Charter Commission to be able to make adjustments every election.
By contrast, the minority wishes to offer its support for making adjustments to the government we currently have, such as:
- Council approval of all department heads.
- Tightening the qualifying criteria for departmental director appointments.
- Amending charter requirements that all communications between the Council and the Administration go through the Mayor, so that Council Members will be able to speak directly with department heads without first receiving approval from the Mayor.
- Clearing up ambiguities in the budget process, while being cautious to not add unnecessary inefficiencies to the management of departments.
As the Cost of Government Commission points out, the review of this topic has lacked the type of due process that such a major change in government requires. Without adequate review, if adopted, the proposal could result in a variety of unintended circumstances. If the Council wishes to pursue such a major change in government, then it should appoint a special Charter Commission to study the proposal and thoroughly review its Charter implications, the Commission opined.
One such circumstance is readily apparent in the majority’s proposal: The major feature of a council-manager system is that the County will seek the best available talent nationwide and compensate them commensurately to their qualifications. That implies that the County Manager would determine how much these management recruits would be paid. However, in Maui County, that decision is made by the Salary Commission. If that Commission does not support significant increases in salaries, the keystone of the council-manager concept will not be achieved. Clearly the majority had not considered this key element of the question in its proposal.
Such a key oversight is indicative of others to follow if this proposal were to be approved without proper, thorough vetting.
Maui County Is Too Complex For Its Current Form of Government
The majority report justifies its proposal, in part, by making the statement that “County governance must be capable of addressing the complexities of Maui County’s culturally and economically diverse community, as well as efficiently managing an annual budget exceeding $600 million.”
That seems to imply that the County is managed poorly and does not respond well to its cultural and economically diverse community and that a shift to a council-manager will fix that. Indeed, Maui is a complex, physically large county (1,162 square miles on three islands), in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. But, as noted earlier, a number of equally diverse, complex metropolitan areas have shifted their form of government back to a mayor-council arrangement because, for some, there was a need for stronger political leadership.
It seems ironic that some of the same members of the majority who approved this statement also pointed to much smaller, less complex, more homogenous communities, such as Thousand Oaks, Ca. and Simi Valley, Ca. as examples of how well council-manager governments work. Indeed, numerous social science studies have noted for decades that council-manager systems have done relatively well in small, homogenous communities in the Midwest, the South and Western states. But the comparison of Southern California bedroom communities to Maui County is truly one of apples to guavas. Those Californian communities are backed up by larger county governments, which supply Civil Defense Management and even Parks Departments. Water is supplied by autonomous water districts that are independent of the municipality. Thousand Oaks encompasses 53 square miles. Simi Valley has 42 square miles.
A major review of this topic: The Changing Structure of American Cities: A Study of the Diffusion of Innovation (H. George Frederickson, Garry Alan Johnson and Curtis Woods, in Public Administration Review, May/June 2004) characterized the leadership of typical council-manager city governments as: “Primarily white male business leaders who live in middle-class and upper class neighborhoods. Specific responsiveness to minorities and ethnic groups, as well as the representation of poor neighborhoods, has been an issue over the past 30 years.”
Echoes of these findings have been in circulation for decades. William Crockett, the vice chairman of the 1967 Charter Commission, that wrote the charter proposal that became our current form of Maui County government, told the Committee that Charter Commission had been warned by social science faculty from the University of Hawaii that council-manager systems work best in homogenous communities. Mr. Crockett said that was one of the considerations that helped move the commission away from proposing a council-manager system 49 years ago.
The majority’s report argued that there is a need for “continuity of leadership, separate from election cycles.” This has been a key argument for restructuring the government: under the council-manager system, elections happen but the management team stays in place because the professional managers are not tied to the political structure. The concern raised by some is that whenever there is a transition in administrations, the government effectively stops functioning. But the math does not back up the argument that a council-manager form of government would produce longer continuity. In a presentation to the Committee, David Mora, representing the International City/County Management Association (ICMA) reported that professional county managers average seven years in their positions. Since the establishment of the current mayor-council system in Maui County, the seven mayoral administrations that have been elected over that time have also averaged seven years in office. (Cravalho 11, H. Tavares 10, Lingle 8, Apana 4, Arakawa (1) 4, C. Tavares 4, Arakawa (2) 8= total 49 years= 7 year average). The perception is that we have had less continuity because we recently had three administrations in a row fail to be re-elected, giving the impression of a revolving door. But the three administrations before them served for a total of 29 years. There is no viability to the argument that Maui County will have better continuity in executive leadership if those leaders are not tied to the election cycle.
Another point on this topic is the fact that the appointing authority for the county manager would be the County Council, a body that is up for re-election every two years. It is conceivable that new Councils would not support the county manager appointed by their predecessors.
And there is the fact that Maui County’s middle management has a long service record. The Division heads are essentially the operations managers for the county. They make sure that there is water in the pipes, the trash is picked up, and the fires are put out. They are essentially tenured by their Civil Service status. This reality reflects on the functionality of the council-manager proposal. A manager would, ideally, be able to pick his own management team to run the departments. In one of studies the Committee reviewed, this comment was offered: “the manager should be able to fire all employees who are not direct staff to the council.” That may be possible in Ohio, but it is not in Hawaii. Government in Hawaii is unique in that even its middle management comes under collective bargaining contracts. On the positive side, that means there is always someone in-charge – whether an election just happened or not – who knows how the systems work. On the down side, the middle management can be seen as having taken ownership of their responsibilities and can be less than hospitable to appointed management.
Checks and Balance
The majority’s choice to include a form of “mayor” in its proposal, will lead to confusion for the average Maui County voter. When the term “mayor” is used in Maui County, it implies an elected Chief Executive Officer, the executive who provides the community political leadership and oversees the function of the government. The term “mayor” in this proposal implies an elected leader without any significant power or leadership role. The proposal would give this mayor the authority to veto Council’s actions. However, the Council could readily override such actions. So what is the purpose of including such a position?
One reason would be to provide the appearance of a proper check and balance. A main selling point of the council-manager system is that it will eliminate the friction created by having two contending branches of government. The council-manager form is ideally more efficient because the Council and the manager the Council appoints are on the same unified team. That comes at the cost of not having a true check to the Council’s authority. The addition of a “mayor” with veto authority is meant to provide such a check. Such a check, however, is highly limited compared to the power of a full Mayor CEO who can take a variety of actions to block Council policy directives. The friction caused by such a balance of powers is fundamental to the American form of government. Mr. Crockett said this was also a key reason the 1967 Charter Commission chose the mayor-council form of government. The members of the minority concur: balancing power in government is essential to a well performing democratic institution.
There is also evidence that the lack of a strong mayoral contest on the ballot leads to weaker voter turn-out. (see Carr.) One of the characteristics of the council-manager system is to distance policy makers from politics. That causes policy makers to be insulated from the traditional forces of political accountability. Voters are less able to identify who is in-charge and how to successfully affect policy. In some well known, infamous cases (Bell, California; Ferguson, Mo.; Flint, Mich.), when there is a disconnection between the government and the people the government is meant to serve, the consequences can be severe. That is not to say that all council-manager governments will fail. It is to say that, simply because Maui County changes its form of government, such a change will not necessarily result in a government that will function any better than the one we currently have. And indeed, such a government could perform worse.
What Is The Problem?
Typically, when a community starts this discussion about governance, and what changes are needed to have government perform better, there is an obvious catalyst, an issue that needs be addressed. The minority has not found one, and nor does the Committee’s recommendation adequately identify an issue or series of issues that relate to the government’s structure, which must to be addressed. There are complaints about the performance of the current administration or the administration’s relationship to the Council, but no true structural issue has been identified. In fact, by two objective standards, the County’s current government structure is performing quite well. Maui County has the highest municipal (AA+) bond rating in the state and the lowest property tax rates in Hawaii. Neither of those facts would be true in a community suffering a poorly functioning government.
The five minority members of the County Council’s Special Committee on County Governance respectfully state that the need for major changes in the way our community governs itself, proposed in the Committee’s recommendation, is not supported by objective evidence. We find no reason to believe that such a change would necessarily improve Maui County governance or the quality of life our citizens, and believe such a major disruption in our form of governance could have the opposite, negative effect. We believe that comparatively small, incremental steps, such as requiring Council approval of departmental appointments, are logical, supportable actions that can be taken to improve our government.
The five minority members of the Special Committee on County Governance would like express our gratitude for this opportunity to serve the Council and the broader community in this discussion about our community’s future.
This document was submitted with the approval of Special Committee on Governance Members: Anthony Takatani (Chair), Kay Okamoto, Doreen Pua Canto, Paula Friel, and David DeLeon.
Photo of the Kalana O Maui County Building: Wikimedia Commons