The Infrastructure and Environmental Management Committee meeting on Monday, Sept. 17, began with a lecture. “I’ve had numerous meetings that we could not deliberate and do the work of this community due to lack of quorum,” Committee Chair Elle Cochran announced after taking roll and marking Councilmembers Don Guzman, Riki Hokama, and Mike White with unexcused absences.
“We do have a rule 13 of the council and it relates to attendance,” Cochran cited, “and this rule 13 states: ‘A member of the council or a voting member of this committee may not be absent from a meeting unless the member has been excused by the presiding officer,’ which is myself for this committee.”
With Councilmember Bob Carroll’s excused absence meaning the only IEM voting members present were Alika Atay, Elle Cochran, and Yuki Lei Sugimura, the committee was short a majority of its members, and Cochran declared, “Due to lack of quorum this meeting of IEM is technically cancelled.”
“But we obviously have people from the community here,” she continued. “We can take testimony, we may ask questions, but we cannot deliberate or actually make decisions, which is very unfortunate because there’s been numerous people’s time, energy, effort, and work that have gone into bringing us here today to put on a meeting: from our legislative analysts, our secretary, corporation counsel, my executive assistants in my office. I mean numerous, and that adds up to lots: thousands of dollars of hourly wages.”
More than 10 people came to testify on the committee’s two meeting agenda items which related to “Permitted use, overuse, and management of the Banyan Tree Park in the Lahaina Historic District” and “Visitor impacts to county environmental and infrastructural resources.”
I was there to listen to discussion on the latter, which involved a proposed resolution to urge the Maui County Visitors Association to “incorporate specific environmental action items into grant objectives.”
“I’m very concerned about our tourism industry and where it’s going,” testified Dick Mayer, a retired Maui Community College professor and former vice chair of the Maui General Plan Advisory Committee. “I think this resolution is very much a step in the right direction but I would urge you to go much further with it and put the Maui Visitors Bureau on notice that their job is not to do marketing – they’ve been too successful at doing marketing, sending tour groups out, traveling, promoting the island…
“The problem is not that tourism is a bad industry. Tourism is a very good industry, but when it goes too far as it has on Maui we have major problems, major impacts. We all know about the housing problems, the whole host of environmental problems that I don’t have to go into. But what needs to be done is that we need to start talking about the numbers of people coming here in a very different way… What we need to do is count how many people are on the island at any one time.
“Our Maui Island Plan speaks very specifically to that in several places. It gives actually a ratio that we should be striving for. We have 156,000 residents on the island. The plan says there should be roughly one-third of that number, which would be 52,000 tourists on the island at any one time. This past month, the latest figures show that we have 75,000. We’re way over, almost 50 percent more than the plan calls for.”
Evidently, these concerns were not enough for the three missing councilmembers to show. Perhaps for truant Mike White, a general manager of Ka‘anapali Beach Hotel (the job he’s stated he plans to return to after his council term is up in Jan.), this isn’t necessarily a problem: It’s good business. Indeed, while not openly obstructionist, White’s attendance record is on par with a college freshman’s for 8am calculus and shows a disregard for the IEM committee’s work.
Records from Committee Chair Cochran’s office document 10 absences from the previous 13 IEM meetings. Hokama’s record similarly shows 10 absences in the same period, while Guzman had five.
The inability for the Infrastructure and Environmental Management committee to make decisions due to poor member attendance is reoccurring. The committee also failed to reach quorum at the last meeting on Sept. 11, which was attended by only Cochran and Sugimura.
“It’s frustrating. Yeah, I have to come all the way over here and do a meeting but the point is it’s the work of this community. That’s the bottom line.” Cochran told me. “It’s no fault of myself or staff – it’s the lack of participation or attendance of members is what’s hindering the work of this community to go forward… I’m at wits end, totally frustrated that we don’t have anything in the charter or in our council rules like ‘three strikes you’re out.’ Most places if you’re not just showing up for work, you think you’re gonna continue to have a job?”
She added, exasperated, “It’s just crazy and it’s wrong and it’s sad. I’m here to do work and get some things accomplished.”
With an aggressively growing tourism and visitor industry that exceeds our island plan’s guidance, receives $4 million from the county budget, stresses locals’ way of life, and pressures the environment, Maui needs answers. Councilmembers playing hookie won’t cut it.
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