At any job, a basic rule is show up. Last month, we ran a story (Sept. 20, “Councilmembers’ Day Off”) about an Infrastructure and Environmental Management County Council Committee meeting that showed how this simple requirement was flouted by some of Maui’s county councilmembers, to the detriment of council business. As it turned out, the Sept. 17 meeting was just the latest of three consecutive IEM committee meetings to leave the day’s agenda at a standstill when absences meant the committee didn’t meet the quorum of four members, and official deliberations and decisions could not take place.
Some of us didn’t get the ditch day memo. Like community members Tristan Rodrigues and Dick Mayer, who testified with observations and input regarding Maui’s tourism industry. They, among others, came to the county building at midday to participate in government and share their thoughts and experiences with elected representatives. When the people speak but politicians aren’t even there to hear it, does democracy make a sound?
Perhaps it’s solace to know that sometime in the indeterminate future their testimony will be summarized and distributed to committee members when the agenda item inevitably resurfaces, unresolved… No, wait, that’s actually not reassuring at all.
See, we elect representatives and pay them with our taxes. They should work for us. Preparation, research, support staff, and infrastructure all go into a single meeting. If nothing is being discussed and advanced, what are we paying for? What did we vote for?
Further, community members carve time into their schedule to engage in politics and have their voice heard on issues that matter to them. When important council work can’t proceed because councilmembers are truant, it’s a dereliction of fundamental duty and a display of disappointing obstructionism and carelessness by absent councilmembers.
Needless to say, the items on the agenda do matter. The Sept. 17 IEM meeting agenda included a resolution to urge the Maui Visitors Bureau to incorporate specific environmental objectives into grant objectives, a necessary step towards finding a balance between the Maui’s visitors industry and environment. The IEM committee exists to advance legislation on issues including county facility construction, traffic safety, and environmental management. Yet, as of Sept. 13, 2018, 65 agenda items remain on that list, according to the IEM committee webpage, including hot topics like the sand mining in Central Maui, coral reef restoration, and plastic bag reduction.
The significance of these agenda items for the future of Maui and fulfilling our obligation to the environment and our keiki can’t be overstated. Councilmembers playing hookie won’t cut it.
So, we reviewed attendance records from 2018 for all committees and general council meetings up until Oct. 1 to see just how much councilmembers are showing up for the council and committee meetings in which they are voting members – the job Maui hired them for. We combined excused and unexcused absences. Here’s what we found:
• Council Chair Mike White (who’s not up for reelection) had 70 absences, the most of any of his colleagues, amounting to missing 37 percent of his meetings.
• Councilmember Riki Hokama (who is up for reelection) was the next-most truant councilmember, missing 43 meetings – 24 percent of them.
• Stacy Crivello gets the gold star for best attendance, having missed only five meetings in 2018, or three percent.
• Yuki Lei Sugimura gets the silver star, missing seven (4 percent) of her meetings
• Councilmembers Kelly King, Don Guzman, and Bob Carroll ranged from 34 to 38 absences, or 19 to 22 percent of their meetings.
• Elle Cochran missed 19 meetings (11 percent) and Alika Atay missed 23 (13 percent).
• The most-ditched committee was the Policy, Economic Development, and Agriculture Committee chaired by Yuki Lei Sugimura, which averaged 2.4 absences per meeting, or 74 percent attendance.
• The second most-ditched committee was the IEM committee, chaired by Elle Cochran which averaged 2.3 absences per meeting, or 66 percent attendance (IEM committee has seven voting members; PEA has nine).
• Eight committee meetings were canceled this year due to a lack of quorum. IEM committee was canceled four times, the most of any committee.
With the two highest absentee rates coming from committees chaired by women, we decided to look at attendance percentages for committees chaired by men versus those chaired by women.
• With the exception of Crivello (gold star!), councilmembers were absent at a higher percentage for committees chaired by the opposite gender than their own – partially a function of near-perfect attendance regarding the committees they chair themselves.
• However, some striking discrepancies between absence rates for committees chaired by men and committees chaired by women were found: Hokama was absent 50 percent of the time for committees chaired by women, but absent only eight percent of the time for committees chaired by men. White was absent 51 percent of the time for female-chaired committees, but 35 percent of the time for male-chaired committees. Guzman was absent 34 percent of the time for committees with a woman chair, but absent for 9 percent of committee meetings chaired by men.
Of course, councilmembers are human. They experience illness, family emergencies, and extenuating circumstances like the rest of us. But also consider this: My classes in college allowed me one absence, excused or unexcused, and no late assignments were accepted. Should the bar be higher for university students than for our own elected officials?
How many of us could get away with going to our jobs or important meetings less than two-thirds of the time? How many of us, grinding to get by, could imagine skipping 40 to 70 days of work?
These are all questions to answer with your ballot come November.
Councilmember Attendance Report Card
Alika Atay – B (87%)
Bob Carroll – B (81%)
Elle Cochran – B+ (89%)
Stacy Crivello – A (97%)
Don Guzman – B (81%)
Riki Hokama – C (76%)
Kelly King – C (78%)
Yuki Lei Sugimura – A (96%)
Mike White – D (63%)
Percentages reflect the percent that councilmembers were present in 2018, until Oct 1, for general council meetings and committees which they are voting members of. Letter grades are arbitrary, but based on a traditional school scale.
View attendance documents received from the council:
Photo 1 original courtesy IMDB, edit by Darris Hurst
Photo 2 by MauiTime
Photo 3 courtesy Mauicounty.us