‘Moment of Truth’ For Maui Election Reform
The way Maui County elects its Council is flawed. It may even be unconstitutional. But it could also change. Under the current system, Maui has nine “residency areas,” which vary radically in size and population, and one Councilmember is elected from each area by all county voters. Recently, the Council’s Committee of the Whole considered two proposals aimed at fundamentally altering the voting process. The first, from the Kula Community Association, would create three districts of roughly equal population, with three Councilmembers elected from each. The second proposal, backed by the West Maui Charter Working Group, would create nine single-member districts of roughly equal population, with one Councilmember elected from each. In both cases, voters would vote only for a candidate or candidates in their respective district. The second proposal has the support of Councilmember Jo Anne Johnson, who introduced a draft resolution that would put the question on the ballot in November. Now, the full Council will take up the matter on Friday, August 6 (meeting begins at 9am in the Council Chambers in Wailuku). Reached for comment, attorney Lance Collins—who works with the West Maui Charter Working Group—called it “a moment of truth” for the Council. Meanwhile, in an August 3 Maui News Viewpoint, Councilmember Danny Mateo of Molokai said the proposal would hurt Molokai and Lanai residents because they’d be folded in with other regions due to their small populations. Of course, that’s sort of the point—does it make sense for such sparsely populated areas to enjoy the same representation as places like Kahului, Kihei and West Maui? That’ll be up for discussion on Friday. And whatever the outcome, everyone will be impacted.
Lingle Nominees ‘Unqualified’?
Judge Katherine Leonard is “unqualified” to be Chief Justice of the Hawaii Supreme Court, at least according to the Hawaii State Bar Association’s (HSBA) board of directors. Leonard, nominated July 22 by Gov. Lingle, would be the first woman ever to head up the state’s high court, which has done nothing to quell the controversy. In a release, Lingle called HSBA’s assessment “outrageous” and claimed it’s based on an “unfair,” “flawed” process that’s “conducted under a veil of secrecy.” Lingle stopped just short of accusing HSBA of sexism, stating that it’s “impossible to know whether there is a political, gender or ethnic bias.” (For those just joining us, that’s called saying it without saying it.) HSBA also gave a thumbs-down to Lingle’s Circuit Court nominee, Judge Faauuga To‘oto‘o, a fact that’s gotten less play (although To‘o‘oto‘o would break a barrier of his own, becoming Hawaii’s first Samoan Circuit Court judge). In the end, Lingle said, she hopes the Senate Judiciary Committe—which held hearings on both nominees this week—“will carefully consider the overwhelming favorable testimony from the legal community and those who know Judge Leonard’s and Judge To‘oto‘o’s respective bodies of work, as well as their character and integrity.”
MECO Hikes Rates, PUC Deliberates
Maui County customers will see their already robust power bills go up again, thanks to a Maui Electric Company (MECO) rate hike approved by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) that kicked in August 1. The 3.3 percent increase will raise the average Maui bill by $5.43 a month ($5.21 on Molokai, $5.61 on Lanai). MECO claims the money “will help pay for more than $122 million in new capital projects to improve service reliability.” In 2009, MECO asked the PUC to approve a 9.7 percent rate hike; the 3.3 percent increase was granted on an interim basis while the PUC continues to review MECO’s request.
Plastic Bag Ban Coming Soon; Public Hearing Coming Sooner
It’s gotten lost in the election-year din, but in just six months Maui County grocery stores, retail outlets and other businesses will no longer be allowed to wrap items in plastic bags. The Plastic Bag Reduction Ordinance—passed in 2008 and set to take effect January 11, 2011—prohibits businesses countywide “from providing plastic bags to their customers at the point of sale for the purpose of transporting groceries or other goods.” The law is aimed at reducing waste and protecting the environment while encouraging “the use of environmentally preferable alternatives…such as recyclable paper bags or reusable bags.” All well and good, but how is this going to work in practice? What form will enforcement take, and what, exactly, will it mean for business owners and customers? Those questions will be answered—or at least addressed—at an August 17 public hearing, set for noon in the Kalana Pakui Conference Room in Wailuku. For more information on both the meeting and the ordinance, call Recycle Maui County at 270-7880 or visit mauicounty.gov.