by Andrew Walden
Hundreds of community activists and aspiring political leaders across Oahu are preparing for Neighborhood Board Elections in April and May to fill 439 seats on 33 Neighborhood Boards. February 18 is the last day to register to vote in the election and the last day for candidates to file nomination papers. But NCO Executive Assistant Bryan Mick and the Neighborhood Commission (NCO) have a surprise in store. On February 17, 2011 the Commission will be holding a “Special Meeting” to vote on a motion to cancel the election and extend the term of all sitting Neighborhood Board members by two years. The current Board members’ terms are set to end June 30, 2011.
It wasn’t easy for the NCO to get this far. The NCO slipped a “public announcement” into the classified section of the Star-Advertiser announcing a “Public Hearing” on “Proposals to Amend the 2008 Neighborhood Plan as Follows”. Buried in a list of 21 mostly non-controversial housekeeping items was the ringer: “2-14-102 C -- Add section which allows the commission to extend neighborhood board member terms by one two-year term.” In other words—the NCO was scheming to give itself the power to cancel the upcoming elections. After all of the hard work positioning Mufi Hannemann cronies on Neighborhood Boards island-wide, why should the NCO allow something silly like an election to interfere?
Several community activists are questioning the legality of the NCO awarding itself the power to extend terms and then doing so without holding an intervening election. The sitting Neighborhood Board members were elected to a flat two year term, not two years with an option for two more. Terms of office cannot be changed without first holding an election for the new terms. The un-amended 2008 Neighborhood Plan reads:
§2-14-102 Board term. (a) The term of office for the members of the boards shall be for a period of two years, from July 1 of an odd numbered year to June 30 of the next successive odd numbered year.
(b) All board members shall serve non-staggered terms of office, and all board seats shall be up for election at the same time in odd numbered years.
Leeward community leader Evelyn Souza and recent County Council candidate Celeste Lacuesta are calling for the community to turn out in opposition to the cancellation of the election. The NCO’s February 17th Special Meeting will be held:
- Thursday, February 17, 2011 7:00 p.m.
- Honolulu Hale, Council Committee Room, 2nd Floor 530 South King Street, Honolulu
Also on the agenda at the same meeting: Anti-development activists’ calls for dissolution of the Koolauloa Neighborhood Board due to its support for the Mormon Church “Envision Laie” development plan.
The proposal has been challenged at almost every step. The minutes of a December 15 Special Meeting of the NCO include this exchange:
- Public Hearings on the proposed amendments to the 2008 Neighborhood Plan are scheduled at Kapolei Hale Conference Room A and Honolulu Hale, Mayor’s Conference Room on January 6, 2011.
- Ron Lockwood asked for clarification on the dates of the public announcement and if ample notice was given. Bryan Mick stated that the notice was sent on December 6, which gave at least 30 day period for preparation. Lockwood’s concern was that the Boards were not allowed the time or opportunity to have formal input in the public hearings.
- Lockwood asked that the Neighborhood Commission Office make the amendments to the Neighborhood Plan more visible on the website, give a price for a hard copy, and have the option of downloading a pdf file or having it emailed to a specific email address.
The public hearing drew little attention, but satisfied the legal requirement for the NCO January 24 to pass the amendments. The January 24 NCO meeting agenda included the following:
2-14-102 (c): Add section which allows the Commission to extend Neighborhood Board member terms by one two-year term.
Lacuesta was at the meeting and reports:
(The) hearing held on Jan 24 (attended by six community members in opposition) had the Commissioners passing the amendments as read because “the Commission had followed protocol and the public was so notified”. It was noted by those in attendance that the vast majority of NB across Oahu was not in session, was never notified, or simply hadn’t noticed an email from Bryan Mick (sent in Mar of 2010) as a heads-up on the proposed changes or the request “for input”.
The Hawaii Independent noted the January 24 discussion at the end of a long article on other issues:
Also discussed at Monday’s meeting were proposed amendments to the City’s Neighborhood Plan. Those who testified were all against an amendment to allow the Commission to extend a neighborhood board member’s term by two years. They were critical of the process by which neighborhood boards were notified of the proposed amendments. A woman from Kapolei cited chaotic meetings and the incompetence of some members, saying a mechanism to get rid of incompetent board members needs to be in place.
Others argued that if term extension was due to budget concerns, the budget for new elections has already been approved and appropriated.
Bailey noted that the amendment did not automatically extend a member’s term, it only gives the Commission the authority to extend terms. In the end, the commissioners agreed to change the wording of the term extension amendment and hold another vote at the next meeting. All other proposed amendments to the City’s Neighborhood Plan were approved.
But Lacuesta describes the result differently:
“…the Commission voted to adopt the amendments as read with three Commissioners voting against it (Ho, Romley, and Tamamoto) having agreed with us.”
Minutes from the January 24 meeting are not yet available. But contrary to the Hawaii Independent report, the NCO on February 17 will be voting on whether to use its newly self-given power to cancel the elections. The upcoming meeting agenda includes this item: (emphasis added)
Request to exercise Commission's authority under section 2-14-102 (c) of the Neighborhood Plan to extend the term of all Neighborhood Board members by one two-year term.
Even as the maneuver to cancel the election goes forward, Mick’s career has stalled. Mick recently withdrew his name from consideration for appointment as NCO Executive Secretary. In a Letter to the Editor of Hawai’i Free Press, Honolulu resident Natalie Iwasa pointed out:
On Wednesday, January 26, the Honolulu City Council held a public hearing for eight of Mayor Carlisle’s cabinet appointees. The Honolulu Star Advertiser reported on the appointments in its January 27 staff article, “Council OKs Hannemann Cabinet trio,” but interestingly nothing was noted in the article about the eighth person, Bryan Mick, who has been appointed (nominated) to fill the position of executive secretary of the neighborhood board commission.
During the hearing, an Ewa Neighborhood Board member testified in opposition to Bryan Mick’s appointment. Councilmember Berg, a former Ewa Beach Neighborhood Board member, asked the testifier pointed questions about Bryan Mick’s alleged lack of communication follow through related to a complaint that was to be filed with the neighborhood board commission office.
Why didn’t the staff at the Star Advertiser include this news? And will the media be present for the executive matters and legal affairs committee meeting next week when Mr. Mick’s appointment is tentatively set for further discussions?
Other members of the Koolauloa and Ewa community were not happy with Mick’s appointment as evidenced by additional communications submitted to councilmembers. Choon James January 31 wrote:
“…to extend for a 2-year term to all neighborhood boards without sufficient public discussion and transparency is capricious. The Neighborhood board is supposed to be a bottom up, not top down operation.”
On February 2, 2011 Mayor Peter Carlisle notified the Council that Mick had asked that his name be withdrawn. He remains as NCO executive assistant.
Feb 17th Meeting Agenda: http://www1.honolulu.gov/nco/com/11/11febag.htm