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Sunday, January 10, 2016
Update on Honolulu Charter Commission – Meeting Friday
By Natalie Iwasa @ 8:57 PM :: 4320 Views :: Honolulu County

Update on Honolulu Charter Commission – Meeting Friday

by Natalie Iwasa, What Natalie Thinks, January 10, 2016

Every 10 years an appointed commission reviews proposals to change the Revised Charter of Honolulu. The charter is like the “constitution” for the City and County of Honolulu. This is our opportunity to change how our government operates.

The commission has been meeting since March 2015 and received over 150 proposals for changes to the charter. Fifteen of those proposals have been deferred, including proposals that would reduce HART’s authority or limit the rail project. (I’ll discuss those HART proposals at another date. They are not dead.) All proposals have been tentatively categorized by topic to facilitate discussion.

The commission will meet again at 3:30 p.m. Friday January 15 and will discuss four of these topics as well as a change to their ethics rules.

Ethics and the Ethics Commission

The following proposals fall under this topic:

  • 15 Require recusal of elected or appointed officials from participating or voting on issues in which they or their families will benefit;
  • 107 Create an Office of the Inspector General to replace the Ethics Commission (disclosure – I introduced this one);
  • 114 Support the independence of the Ethics Commission by moving it to the Office of the City Auditor;
  • 147 Split – 1) Allow public access to Ethics Commission’s rulings, and 2) Gift disclosures; and
  • 153 Provide clear standard of conduct, including language about gifts from lobbyists.

Given recent reports and concerns about ethics and conflicts between the Ethics Commission and the city administration, it is great that these changes have been proposed and will be discussed. I will look at the proposals more in depth, but I’d like to share a few comments now.

The idea of recusal when there is a conflict of interest has been brought up before, and I can understand why #15 was introduced. In the past few years, some councilmembers have not disclosed their conflicts of interest while others have disclosed relationships that are not legally considered conflicts. Improvements to our current system can be made through more education and better enforcement. In consideration of recusal, we need to be careful that constituent groups aren’t left without a voice on important issues.

I introduced #107 because of the head butting we’ve seen between the city administration and the Ethics commission. In one instance, it was reported the commission was not able to continue an investigation, because a $600 expenditure was not approved by corporation counsel. The commission is under the thumbs of the administration and gets its funding from the Honolulu City Council, and both sides have been under investigation by the commission. Independence is sorely needed.

My proposal needs one change, however. I found out after I introduced it, that the state has a law requiring each county to have an ethics commission. I’m looking at a couple of other cities that have an inspector general and ethics commission and will provide that information to the commission on Friday. The two agencies can complement each other.

Salary Commission

The following proposals fall under this topic:

  • 39 Authorize the commission to set salary ranges for attorneys who work for the Ethics Commission;

  • 41 Authorize the commission to establish salary ranges (vs. specified amounts);
  • 43 Require that commission recommendations go into effect within 60 days if they have a two-thirds vote;
  • 62 Make commission decisions final without need for approval by the city council or the mayor; and
  • 100 Make salary commission recommendations binding.

The discussion on these will be interesting.

Fire Department and Commission

The following proposals fall under this topic:

  • 27 Establish a five-year term for the fire chief;
  • 37 Establish a five-year term for the fire chief and delete the authority of the Fire Commission to remove the chief;
  • 60 Address the use of sirens late at night (deferred):
  • 86 Amend the description of the duties of the fire chief and require the chief to promulgate rules for organization and internal administration; and
  • 87 Increase the number of members of the Fire Commission from five to seven.

Police Department and Commission

The following proposals fall under this topic:

  • 16 Amend the terms of service of Police Commissioners to ensure broad representation;
  • 18 Allow the Police Commission to punish officers for misconduct or bad behavior and allow the mayor to fire the police chief with concurrence of a majority of the commission;
  • 22 Establish an Office of the Inspector General attached to the Police Commission;
  • 28 Keep identities of complainants against police confidential until the case is completed;
  • 31 Authorize the commission to place the police chief on leave due to an ongoing investigation;
  • 58 Create an independent citizen agency to review police misconduct;
  • 111 Investigate HPD officers based on anonymous complaints and make limited information regarding final disciplinary actions against officers public;
  • 147 Treat HPD officers the same as civilians if they commit crimes;
  • 151 Increase the commission from 7 to 10 members, limit terms to four years with a maximum of three terms, and require at least three commissioners to have specified qualifications; and
  • 152 Improve functioning of HPD and help restore public trust by:
  • Authorizing the commission to 1) override a disciplinary decision of the chief if public safety would be compromised; 2) make recommendations directly to the mayor on hiring and dismissing the chief and participate in the chief’s selection; and
  • Delete language preventing the commission or members from interfering with the administrative affairs of the police department.

Many concerns have been raised in the past few years about the behaviors of some police officers and the chief himself. Several of these proposals are in direct response to those concerns. The Charter Commission may combine ideas of several of them to arrive at an item (or items) to put on the ballot.

The agenda for the Charter Commission’s Friday meeting is available at It provides instructions for testifying. Note that the last page includes topics for discussion at future meetings. Hopefully the commission will set the dates for these meetings on Friday.

The Charter Commission’s website,, provides other important information. For a list of proposals that indicates which ones were deferred, please visit:



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