2018 would not go gentle into the night, and the restless popping of firecrackers chattered into Tuesday like the last gasps of a year with unfinished business. But finally – and with many BANGs to herald it in – 2019 arrived. Take a breath of fresh air.
You’re gonna need it to keep up.
You see, Maui is changing, and while good people took time off to celebrate the holiday season, the forces of change did not. And if you haven’t been keeping up, it’s time to catch up, because here’s the thing: Change will leave you behind… and some forces of change are OK with that.
Here’s an example. On Dec. 27, at 9am at the Kalana O Maui Building in Wailuku, the Maui County Council convened for a mockery of a public hearing in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The so-called-public hearing was called following a marathon two-day council meeting earlier in December, in which contentious legislation advanced in the twilight of the council’s lame-duck session. Three major bill packages were at stake: an additional $40-million appropriation for the Wailuku Civic Complex project, an amendment to the Pa‘ia-Ha‘iku Community Plan, and an amendment to the Kihei-Makena Community Plan.
Public testimony on these and other issues during a Dec. 11 meeting consumed an entire day, and when the council reconvened, public hearings were requested for the three contested bill packages before final votes could be cast for passage.
Rather than referring the bills to accommodate hearings that are reasonable to the public, at a time and place in the affected community, outgoing Council Chair Mike White chose to squeeze the agenda items a time of his convenience: 9am, between Christmas and New Year’s, at the Kalana O Maui Building in Wailuku.
Attendance was low on both sides of the council chambers. Five councilmembers – White, Carroll, Crivello, Sugimura, and Hokama – were present; Atay, Cochran, Guzman, and King were excused. Fewer than 30 members of the public spread across the council chambers to testify and watch the lame-duck half-council make its last pushes, with just days of decision-making power left on the calendar. Many members of the public testified for the matters to be deferred, and pleaded for better efforts at including the public.
“Move this meeting, this hearing, to the community of Pa‘ia and Ha‘iku so our community can give better input and enjoy the rest of our new years and holidays,” said one testifier from Pa‘ia. “There’s a lot of issues in Pa‘ia… The lifestyle gon’ change drastically. We need to slow down.”
“Your average local person who’s going to live with the results in Wailuku is not following these meetings,” another noted in their testimony on the $40-million Wailuku Civic Complex appropriation. “They are busy working, keeping their families together, but [an evening meeting could be] one more chance for folks to understand what is being planned.”
Indeed, the West Central Wailuku census tract had the lowest median household income on Maui in the 2008-2012 and 2013-2017 datasets. These are the kinds people who would be profoundly impacted by the civic complex, yet likely can’t make it to weekday council meetings.
”I do agree with those who say that final consideration of spending $80-plus million should be an evening meeting with the actual current plan,” she added. “This is kind of the intention of everyone that testified. Yet it seems, just to be efficient, this one meeting with everything stacked on it, that’s during the daytime, has been substituted for that intention. It is not what people have been asking for.”
The testifier requested evening meetings in the community, and that action be deferred until these meetings could be held. In her experience with such community meetings, “There were people there that I’ve never seen before in my life because they work during the day and you do get to hear from our silent majority when you meet the evening.”
Other members of the public were more straightforward.
“As has been said many times, was this made for your own convenience and your own ego in rushing this through?” one asked.
“You have bare quorum, you have councilmembers that boycotted this meeting because they know that it’s wrong. Look at the gallery. Does this represent your community? Basically this is like a big middle finger to the community saying ‘We don’t care what you think.’”
In the end, only one bill package was referred for further input, the amendment to the Pa‘ia-Ha‘iku Community Plan (outgoing Councilmember Stacy Crivello, Moloka‘i, made the motion). Bill packages for the additional $40-million Wailuku Civic Complex and the amendment to the Kihei-Makena community plan passed.
“I’m comfortable that we’ve done a great deal to try to get people involved,” lame-duck Council Chair Mike White said in comments before passing the civic complex appropriation.
“Everybody should have their input, but as you all know one of the biggest challenges that we face here is that not everybody is paying attention to what we’re doing and so it is difficult when people finally find out about something and they come back and want to learn more about it,” White said, with signature supremacy.
When the Chair of the Maui County Council stacks the deck against the public by hurrying last-minute meetings and hearings into inconvenient times, then says the problem is that the community doesn’t pay attention, is it a call for education or just elitism?
“Whenever you do something, it is never enough,” Councilmember Yuki Lei Sugimura acknowledged, before determining the public input thus far was good enough for her to vote for passage.
“It’s always tough at this point in time isn’t it, Chairman?” Councilmember Riki Hokama later opined. “This council took an oath until the end of January 1 to uphold and exercise their responsibilities,” he said before voting aye on the Kihei-Makena Community Plan amendment.
(Note: On the subject of “responsibilities,” MauiTime reported in October 2018 that as of that point in the year, Hokama was the second-most truant councilmember, missing 24 percent of them; White was the most truant.)
Well, thankfully, (as I write this) Jan. 1 is today. Hopefully the new council, which holds its organizing meeting as we go to press on Jan. 2, will uphold their responsibilities with a dedication to community service and respect for the public voice.
Regardless, the end of 2018 shows that there are powers-that-be that aren’t waiting for you to make it to your seat at the table. The politicians paying lip service to “preserving identity” and “providing opportunities” are the same ones rushing legislation and unwilling to hold truly accessible public meetings…You know, where the public and representatives could actually have a dialogue about what that identity means or the kinds of opportunities communities really want and need.
When the second-to-last testifier stepped to the podium, she seemed dizzied by the speed of the entire process:
“If I feel disenfranchised and I feel disconnected from what’s happening in my community, then the average person, who is just getting by, who can’t take off of work, who doesn’t have the flexibility my job offers me – there’s no way they could be here to testify… I’m disappointed that you could be taking action today that affects the place that I live and work in, and I don’t know about it to get involved and make an informed decision.”
It’s hearing testimony like this – while politicians lie in wait with the show-stopping gong, ready to push them off the stage in order to check the boxes to ram decisions through – that concerns me the most for our local democracy. Will she be back to testify another day, I wonder, or did she leave just as disenfranchised as when she approached the mic?
Anyway, it’s a new year. So here’s a resolution: Nobody gets left behind. Let’s make 2019 the year we keep up, and include all of our voices in the choices directing the future of Maui. As it goes, “If you don’t have a seat at the table, then you’re probably on the menu.” Happy New Year.
Image courtesy Maui County
Discussion and poll:
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Now, in 2019, Maui has a new mayor and county council.
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