ONCE MORE FROM THE TOP: Maui County Council selects County Clerk, hears testimony on Midwives and 911 Dispatchers at Feb. 3 Meeting
from Our Correspondent
The tumultuous tone of the Jan 27th Maui County Council meeting which ran 18 hours and was chaotic from beginning to end had many wondering if this was a preview of things to come? By Feb. 3, when the council convened again, things had calmed down considerably.
The hot button topic of the meeting was the nomination of Moana Lutey as County Clerk and Richelle Thomson as Deputy Clerk, (Reso 23-25 and 23-26). When Friday’s meeting began both were serving in those posts in an interim capacity. An earlier attempt to hire them permanently received substantial public opposition.
The pair, both lawyers, had previously been Corporation Counsel (Lutey) and first deputy (Thomson) in the Victorino administration. When they were not retained by incoming Mayor Bissen their names were put forward to fill two vacancies in the Office of the County Clerk (OCC) with hefty wage increases proposed for both.
The prior compensation for the clerk was $110,000 a year, while the new pay was set at $156,982. The deputy's new pay was set at $149,123, also a substantial increase. These wages are effective through June 2023. After that date the responsibility for determining the pay will be determined by the Salary Commission, and may be revised upward or downward.
Some members of the public had been rankled that the openings had not been advertised and that the pair had seemingly landed cushy public jobs without allowing for consideration of any other candidates. As a result the jobs were finally advertised. The other applicants were: Charles Alevato, Mia ‘Aina, Ruby Chapman, Kerry Dawson, Casey Findtner, Courtney Friend, Tracy Gibbs, Anmarie Mabbutt, Mike Saiki and Peter Yoon..
Meanwhile, the State Supreme Court, ruling on Ahia v Lee, January 20, 2023, sharply criticized the previous Maui County Clerk, Kathy L Kaohu, for 'moving furniture' instead of 'curing' hundreds of invalidated absentee ballots. The Clerk's office is responsible for managing elections within Maui County and it will be incumbent on the new Clerk to abide by the Supreme Court's ruling.
Maui Council testimony rules evident during the January 27 meeting had been changed. The three minute limit on testimony had been restored (instead of two minutes allowed at the previous meeting). One optimistic participant went so far as to suggest that "Portuguese should have five minutes.”
Also restored was the policy which allowed the public to give testimony on single or multiple agenda items at the beginning of the meeting, and not have to wait for hours for the matter to come to the floor. Those who wanted to wait until a specific topic was under discussion to testify could still do so.
Chair Alice Lee said that the electronic "chat" should be limited to signing up to testify and cautioned the public not to make comments about the proceedings in that space. She also had a stern warning about decorum, saying those who did not exhibit proper behavior could be ejected or banned.
Technology Glitches: Though this meeting was by not as long as the one on Jan. 27, it still ran over 10 hours. During that time the remote audio/video technology failed multiple times in multiple ways. Sometimes the sound disappeared, sometimes the sound and picture vanished, and sometimes everything just scrambled.
Among those interested in the clerk's job was a young man who presently works as a casino manager, another young applicant who had solid tech credentials but no election experience, and a local attorney who seemed to have most of the necessary skills, if perhaps not the right connections.
If Lee had hoped that her warning on decorum would soften the rhetoric, she did not have long to wait to see her edict tested. Sam Small, an activist with Maui Causes, blasted Lutey as “manipulative, divisive and abrasive.” Language which Lee found offensive and nearly got him thrown out.
He was followed by Mike Moran, head of the Kihei Community Association, who also had objections, but used more moderate language to voice his criticism. Others testified against the pair for a variety of reasons including their role as prime movers of the Lahaina injection well litigation, a long running environmental case which the county lost, at a cost of millions in legal fees.
But it wasn’t all brickbats.
The pair had strong support from multiple Mauians with past and present county ties, including Sandy Baz, former Maui County Managing Director, who spoke highly of them. He pointed out that the injection well litigation was pursued at the direction of the former mayor. Also supporting Lutey and Thomson was Keola Whittaker, a current county deputy Corporation Counsel who praised the nominations. He thought their command of parliamentary procedure would serve the county well and called them “hardworking” and “great supervisors.” A letter in support of the nominations signed by present staffers of the clerk's office was also received.
After questioning the other candidates and interviewing Lutey and later Thomson the council confirmed them both at the stipulated pay rates by a unanimous vote.
Several other items on the agenda were also notable:
*Bill 4 (2023) Conversion of certain legal short term condo rentals in West Maui to long term use. Bill 4 would change the status of certain condominium properties from legal short term vacation rentals (TVRs) and reclassify them as long term rentals providing 100% of the owners in a given building voluntarily agree to the change. The buildings impacted by this proposed legislation are often referred to as units covered by the “Minatoya Decision.”
This legislation has a long and complicated history. Now renamed Bill 4, it was sent to the DRIP Committee, (Disaster, Resilience, International Affairs and Planning) chaired by West Maui Council Member Paltin, who drafted the proposed legislation. If passed, Bill 4 would have substantial financial implications for the owners of the impacted units and would likely lead to “takings” litigation.
*HOME BIRTHS - LICENSING OF MIDWIVES: (Reso-23-28) “Urging the legislature to enact a statute permanently exempting birth attendants from state licensure requirement,” drew dozens of comments from women interested in protecting local midwives (aka birth attendants) from strict new rules that would work a hardship on native cultural practitioners, and made little sense for Maui County where there is no way to feasible way to comply with the regulations, because the required course of study is not offered here.
Those testifying gave detailed commentary on how the new rules would interfere with a woman’s ability to give birth at home, and also pointed out that the midwife community was represented by two different organizations which had two opposing views on the licensing requirements. The state licensing law, if not modified, is set to take effect this summer.
The resolution was passed unanimously.
*More support for 911 dispatchers (MPD) including recognition as “first responders.” (Reso 23-29) This was also the topic of some persuasive public comment urging appropriate pay and upgrade for the important work performed by county workers who respond to incoming 911 calls. This job has a high burnout rate, and there are currently many vacancies because of low pay and stressful nature of the work. Council member Paltin cautioned that the term “first responder” has a different legal definition than is implied in the resolution. She put forward language to clarify the meaning. This resolution was also approved.
Jan, 2023: Supreme Court: Election Officials moved office furniture instead of ‘curing’ hundreds of invalidated ballots
Jan, 2023: Lee Elected Chair of Maui Council after Epic 18 Hour Meeting
Find the agendas of the Maui County Council as well as links to agendas, videos and details at: LINK
Members of the public can sign up to be automatically notified of upcoming Council and committee meetings at that site as well.
View video of the entire Feb. 3 meeting at: LINK
Video of the Feb. 3 meeting can also be found at the Maui County Council Facebook page. Stream the council meetings live through Facebook, or view them at this site at your convenience at a later date.
Akaku also carries video coverage of council meetings on Channel 53.