2016 Honolulu Charter Amendments Part 1
Though I didn't get to it yesterday, as I promised, here's part one of my thoughts on the proposed Honolulu Charter Amendments.
Amendment #1 Should the Police Commission have greater authority to suspend or dismiss the chief of police and have additional powers to investigate complaints concerning officer misconduct, and should the chief of police be required to submit a written explanation for his or her disagreement with the Commission?
Present Situation: The chief of police can only be removed for continuous maladministration after being given a reasonable period to correct the maladministration. The Police Commission does not have the authority to subpoena witnesses or require the production of evidence relevant to a Police Commission investigation. The chief of police is not required to respond to the Police Commission concerning the Commission’s recommendations regarding office misconduct.
If Proposal Passes: The Police Commission could remove or suspend the chief of police before the end of the chief’s five-year appointment for any reason, including behavior inconsistent with the interests of the public or the city. The Police Commission would be able to subpoena witnesses and require the production of evidence pertinent to a Police Commission investigation. The chief of police would be required to provide in writing the reasons for any disagreement with a Police Commission recommendation.
This one seems like a no-brainer to me. If the Police Commission appoints a Chief of Police, they should have equal power to remove them for any reason. The Commission should also have the power to subpoena witnesses and compel the production of documents or other information relevant to an investigation under its authority.
The charter amendment appears to be a direct response to ongoing investigations of the current Chief of Police, Louis Kealoha.
Amendment #2 Should the Ethics Commission set salaries of the Ethics Commission’s executive director and staff attorneys within specified limits?
Present Situation: The Ethics Commission sets the executive director’s salary but not those of the Commission’s staff attorneys.
If Proposal Passes: The Ethics Commission would have the authority to set salaries of its executive director and staff attorneys. The salary of the executive director would not exceed the salary of the first deputy corporation counsel and the salary of any other staff attorney would not exceed the salary of the executive director.
Though I'm not sure what the impetus is behind this proposal, but it also seems pretty cut and dry to me. The Ethics Commission, which enforces and advises on the city's ethics laws, has the power to hire and fire the Executive Director and staff attorneys. It seems only reasonable that the commission also have some authority with respect to salaries, within certain limits.
Amendment #3 Should the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney control its budget after it is approved by the City Council?
Present Situation: The executive branch can withhold funds from the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney after the department’s budget has been approved by the City Council.
If Proposal Passes: The executive branch would not be able to withhold funding that has been approved by the City Council for the operation of the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney.
This proposed amendment may be a symptom of the ongoing... bickering between the Mayor's Office and the City Council, though it's not entirely clear to me. It seems touchy and potentially represents a slippery slope.
On the one hand, an argument can be made that the Department of the Prosecuting Attorney should maintain some autonomy form the Executive Branch, in this case the Mayor's Office. The Department of the Prosecuting Attorney's budget, presumably is included in the overall budget based by the City Council and approved by the Mayor, maybe shouldn't be subject to the same whims of the Executive Branch as other departments.
Still, if this authority is taken from the Mayor's Office, it could lead to additional similar shrinking of the power of the executive. The balance of the three government branches is a delicate thing and when too much tweaking takes place, the possibility exists of one branch losing too much authority at the hands of another and the whole system can begin to break down.
Though on its face I think it's probably fine, but what it could represent going forward makes me a bit unease. I'll be voting "no" on this one.
Amendment #4 Should a unified multi-modal transportation system be created by: 1) Forming a Rate Commission to annually review and recommend adjustments to bus and paratransit fares, rail fares and parking fees; 2) Placing operations and maintenance responsibilities for bus, paratransit and rail solely in the Department of Transportation Services and providing for the transfer of positions and legal rights and obligations relating to rail operations and maintenance from the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) to the Department of Transportation Services effective July 1, 2017; and 3) Clarifying the responsibility of the HART Board to establish policies, rules, and regulations regarding the development of the rail system, the internal management and organization of HART, and the allocation of decision-making authority between the Board and the agency’s executive director and staff, and amending the responsibilities of the HART Board include determine the policies for approval of certain agreements with the federal, public or private entities?
Present Situation: The Charter currently assigns fare setting for bus and paratrasnit to the Transportation Commission, with final approval by the City Council, and the setting of rail fares to HART. There is no advisory review board dedicated to the regular review of fares and rates. The Charter assigns operations and maintenance (O&M) of bus and paratransit to DTS and rail to HART. The Charter states the HART Board is not to interfere in the administrative affairs of HART.
If Proposal Passes: The operations and maintenance (O&M) of the city-owned multi-modal transportation system would be unified under the director of transportation services. All O&M contracts and O&M personnel at the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) would be transferred to the Department of Transportation Services effective July 1, 2017. The Department of Transportation Services would become solely responsible for the integration and coordination of public transportation services. The mayor and the City Council would appoint the members of a Rate Commission, and the Commission would review and recommend, at least annually, adjustments to fares, rates, and tariffs. The authority of the HART Board to establish policies, rules, and regulations regarding the development of the rail system, the internal management and organization of HART, and the allocation of decision-making authority between the Board and administrative staff would be clarified. Also, the responsibilities of the HART Board would be amended to include determining the policies for approval of certain agreements with the federal, public or private entities.
I'm inclined to vote "yes" on this one, but it makes me a bit uncomfortable.
The amendment, it appears, would streamline decision-making with regard to the county's transportation services. It makes sense that transportation-related topics be handled by the city's Department of Transportation Services. I like the idea of having an independent commission reviewing and recommending changes to rates and fares for the bus and rail systems. This would, I think, somewhat take these decisions out of the political realm, though the City Council would ultimately have the final say.
Still, I sense an undercurrent of political motivation that goes beyond the question itself. Since before ground was broken on the rail, it has been a political lightning rod, I can't clearly see what additional, unintended, or hidden consequences may result from the approval of this amendment.
Amendment #5 Should the Affordable Housing Fund be used to develop rental housing for persons earning 60 percent or less of the median household income, provided that the housing remains affordable for at least 60 years.
Present Situation: The current income limits for residents of Affordable Housing Fund-assisted dwellings is less than 50 percent of the median household income, which is more restrictive than affordable housing requirements of other government entities. In addition, any Affordable Housing Fund-assisted dwellings must remain affordable in perpetuity.
If Proposal Passes: the permissible use of funds from the Affordable Housing Fund would be limited to rental housing, but expanded to provide affordable rental housing for persons earning 60 percent or less of the median housing income in the city. This would align the Affordable Housing Fund’s income restrictions with those used by other government entities. The authority to use the Affordable Housing Fund for affordable rental units in mixed-income projects would also be clarified. Housing funded in this manner would be required to remain affordable for at least sixty years rather than in perpetuity.
I plan to vote "no" on this one.
In 2016, according to the Hawaii Housing Finance and Development Corporation (HHFDC) the median income for a family of four on Oahu is $100,500. 60% would be $60,300. 50% would be $50,250.
While the increase here would definitely be a positive move, I have serious concerns about lifting the permanent limitation that currently exists and reducing it to 60 years. Sure, that sounds like a long time, but this limited restriction may work in other places across the country, in Hawaiʻi, where land is finite, we need real, permanent solutions to affordable housing.
Were we to change the restriction to 60 years, all we'd be doing is temporarily creating low-income housing. Without real changes to other deeply structural economic problems (income, cost of living, land prices, etc.) it makes sense to fix low-income housing developments permanently, guaranteeing we won't face a resurgence of homelessness on Oahu in 61 years.
If the "in perpetuity" provision of the existing law is creating hesitation for developers and land owners, we need to find other ways to incentivize construction of low-income housing.
Amendment #6 Should departments responsible for the city’s infrastructure needs be required to prepare long-term plans?
Present Situation: The departments of Environmental Services, Parks and Recreation, Facility Maintenance, and Transportation Services use different methods to choose projects for their capital improvement plans and budgets. The departments do not have overall master plans for energy efficiency city buildings, for parks and recreation, or for energy conservation and emissions reduction in transportation. Wastewater capital budgets and projects relating to improvements to the wastewater collection and treatment systems are selected to conform to the requirements of the federal consent decree and solid waste has to establish and abide by a state-funded integrated solid waste management plan.
If Proposal Passes: The required plans would help identify needs over the long term, including the need to replace and upgrade aging infrastructure now in place and to build new infrastructure in growing areas. Further, priorities and expenditures would be guided by these plans, which would be updated every five years. The provision would require the departments responsible for critical infrastructure needs of the City to address state and federal requirements in their master planning.
I'll be voting "yes."
State and county government, it seems to me, has been notoriously bad at planning ahead. Looking to the future, I believe government can solve today's problems while keeping those solutions in a long-term context. Local government has failed to do so.
This amendment would require some county departments to look to the future in a way that is beneficial how, as well as for future generations. It seems like a no-brainer to me.
Amendment #7 Should the city use its power to serve the people in a sustainable and transparent manner and to promote stewardship of natural resources for present and future generations, and should the city create an Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency?
Present Situation: The Charter does not mandate the use of city powers to promote sustainability, stewardship of natural resources and transparency and does not establish an Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency.
If Proposal Passes: Sustainability, transparency, and natural resource stewardship would be principles of city governance. An Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency would be created as a central point for gathering information and working with others on issues related to climate change, resiliency and sustainability.
I have some trouble with this one, but will likely vote "yes."
It seems to me the overriding intent of the amendment could be achieved without creating a whole new county department. I'm one of those few people who believe in "big government" as an instrument of good for the people. But I don't believe in creating bureaucracy for the sake of bureaucracy, or because it sounds good. And it sounds like that's what's happening here.
Rather than creating a whole new department, couldn't the amendment instead state clearly that departments will work collaboratively to "promote sustainability, stewardship of natural resources and transparency?" Still, in the case, I think the underlying principle is more important that quibbling about how the city moves forward in this area.
Amendment #8 Should a new Department of Land Management responsible for the protection, development, and management of city lands be established?
Present Situation: There is no single department responsible for management of real property owned by the city or for real property transactions. Instead, these functions are dispersed among the various departments.
If Proposal Passes: The Department of Land Management would manage real property and negotiate real property transactions on behalf of the city. As a part of its responsibilities, this department would identify the public interest served by real property transactions involving existing lands and would report to the city council, which would have final approval authority.
On this one I'm a bit torn, but will likely vote "no."
While I support the idea of centralizing the county's land management in one place, I don't believe a department can simultaneously be responsible for the protection and development of land. Inevitably, one will lose out to the other. And with so much money in land development, it isn't hard to imagine how quickly protection will be cast aside.
It would make sense to me, should Amendment #7 be approved by voters, that the Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency could be charged with protection of land under the county's control.
Amendment #9 Should a Honolulu Zoo Fund be established and funded by a minimum of one-half of one percent of estimated annual real property taxes to pay for Honolulu Zoo expenses to assist the Honolulu Zoo in regaining its accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums?
Present Situation: The Honolulu Zoo lost its accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, in part, because the city does not have a consistent source of funding to pay for Honolulu Zoo expenses. The Honolulu Zoo is currently working to regain its Association of Zoos and Aquariums accreditation.
If Proposal Passes: Beginning July 1, 2017, a minimum of one-half of one percent of estimated annual real property revenues would be deposited every year in the Honolulu Zoo Fund to pay for Honolulu Zoo expenses, provided that the Fund would be automatically repealed on July 1, 2023, if the Honolulu Zoo does not regain its Association of Zoos and Aquarium accreditation.
I'm torn. On the one hand, the amendment doesn't increase revenues to help fund the Honolulu Zoo. On the other hand, by requiring a dedicated funding source to the zoo, it reduces the overall size of the county's funding pie by at least one-half of one percent.
In 2013, the most recent year I could find clear numbers, the county collected $811.8 million in real property taxes. 0.5% of that is $4.06 million. One would imagine that in 2017 those numbers would be even higher.
$4 million is not small change, even if it does represent 0.5% of real property revenue in 2013. I'm not sure I feel comfortable setting aside funds for the zoo while so many on Oahu are sleeping on the street, or in shelters.
Practically, I understand sometimes it isn't a matter of either one or the other.... Without additional information, like how much revenue the zoo generated when it was fully functional and accredited, or other benefits of having the zoo here, I'm not sure I can support this one.
Amendement #10 Should the mayor’s executive powers and the City Council’s legislative powers only be subject to exceptions specifically provided in the Charter and should the mayor and City Council be given concurrent authority to establish funds when no appropriate funds of the same type exist and to propose amendments to the annual executive budget?
Present Situation: The exceptions to the executive powers of the mayor and the legislative powers of the City Council, the authority of the City Council to amend the annual executive budget, and the authority of the mayor (with approval of the City Council) to establish funds have been questioned.
If Proposal Passes: The exceptions to the executive powers of the mayor and the legislative powers of the City Council must be specifically provided in the Charter. The mayor (with the approval of the City Council) and City Council would have concurrent authority to propose amendments to the annual executive budget and concurrent authority to establish funds when no appropriate funds of the same type exist.
I'll likely leave this one blank (the equivalent of a "no" vote).
The information provided by the Charter Commission is vague. A cursory search for additional information on this one provided no substantive result. I'll keep digging, but in the meantime, leaving it blank is the best option.
Look out for 11-20 tomorrow.