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Kelly King Elected Chair as New Council Organizes

When the newly elected Maui County Council took their seats for the first time at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, January 2nd it elected Kelly King (South Maui) Chair, Keani Rawlins-Fernandez (Molokai) Vice Chair, and Tasha Kama (Kahului) Presiding Officer Pro Tempore. Each woman received a unanimous vote. It marked a changing of the guard for the legislative branch of county government which for the first time is headed by a three-woman triumvirate. The nine member body was sworn in earlier in the day. In addition to the three, the other members of the new Council are Shane Sinenci (Hana); Mike Molina (Makawao-Haiku-Paia), Alice Lee (Wailuku), Riki Hokama (Lanai), Tamara Paltin (West Maui), and Yuki Lei Sugimura (Upcountry).

In other business, the new Council adopted their rules which had several significant changes from prior years including a new Rule 25 “Relating to the Conduct Relating to Public Meetings.” The nine part new section including the injunction to “refrain from browsing the Internet on non-county business while a meeting is in session, and also to “refrain from texting … during meetings”. To the new guidelines on “civil behavior” council member Sugimura added and members approved (7-2) an additional provision barring “unruly or disrespectful behavior in chambers,” and encourage “a safe and respectful environment for all attendees.” A provision for additional regulations addressing the conduct of council’s staff was put over until a later date when members did not agree on who or if the council as a body should be able to “discipline” a staffer of a fellow member.

The new rules also contain a provision for the establishment of special committees which may include members of the public, council members, county officers or county employees.

Rules regarding attendance have also been toughened by requiring “a voting member of the Council or committee shall attend each duly noticed meeting of the council or committee at the scheduled time and for the duration of the meeting unless the member has been excused by the presiding officer in writing, following a written request.” The attendance section further states “a voting member with five absences from a committee meeting may be removed as a voting member of the committee at the request of the committee chair and with the Council’s approval by resolution.”

Other new provisions include the disclosure of lobbyist status by paid lobbyists who testify before the council

In related business, the Council appointed Josiah Nishita to the post of County Clerk and set his salary at $105,000. Also appointed were Maria Zielinski, Director of Council Services with a salary of $135,000; Margaret Clark, Deputy County Clerk to be paid $94,000. By a vote of 8-1 (Hokama voted no), they agreed to raise the wages of 15 members of the council services staff by an aggregate of $51,500 for the remaining six months of the fiscal year. The council also approved a resolution reappointing Lance Taguchi as the County Auditor.

After the dinner break, the council considered a revised committee structure. The new chairman’s plan calls for eight committees to be more closely aligned with the language and goals of Maui Island Plan: They are:
1) Affordable Housing,
2) Economic Development & Budget
3) Environmental, Agricultural and Cultural Preservation
4) Governance, Ethics & Transparency
5) Healthy Families and Communities
6) Multimodal Transportation
7) Planning & Sustainable Land Use
8) Water & Infrastructure

As the discussion moved to the new committees Lee took issue with linking them to the plan, her objections were followed by others from Molina and Sugimura, both of whom did not think that Economic Development belonged with Budget.

A motion to take Economic Development out of Budget passed 5-4 with Sinenci, Molina, Lee, Hokama and Sugimura in the majority. There then followed a discussion of where to put Economic Development. The group fiddled with a variety of alternatives including Transportation and/or Planning, before Sinenci piped up with a request for reconsideration of the earlier motion.

After some parliamentary wrangling back and forth the vote for reconsideration came to the floor, Sinenci changed his vote, and Economic Development went back to Budget.

The chair called for the adoption of the committee structure as proposed and it passed 5 to 4 (Ayes: King, Paltin, Kama, Rawlins-Fernandez, Sinenci; Nays: Hokama, Molina, Sugimura, Lee).

The meeting adjourned at 9:10 with a new chairman, new leadership, and a new tone of voice. Whether the new majority will be permanent or transitory remains to be seen, and who will head and sit on the various committees (whatever they are called) will be determined in the near future.

Sure to be contentious as the month wears on will be the confirmation process for department heads. Due to a recently passed charter amendment all department heads nominated by the Mayor Victorino must now be confirmed by the council.

Word on the street is at least three of the nominees may not have the necessary votes.

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About Susan Halas

Susan Halas is a Senior Political Contributor at MAUIWatch. She has followed Hawaii politics since 1976 when she moved to the Valley Isle. She was formerly a staff writer for the Maui News as well as other local print and digital publications.

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