Tuesday, March 18, 2008


DOG CATCHER TO BE REPLACED WITH ANIMAL CONTROL OFFICER: It’s not often that Glenn Mickens is wrong. The unassuming “Coach”, who always gives himself less credit than is deserved, has been a chief proponent of instituting a County Manager (CM) system of governance on Kaua`i, assuming a change in the structure will clear the utter depravity and corruption that the administrations and county councils have perpetrated for generations.

Glenn says it could work. But he, along with Ken Taylor, whose ideas are usually equally unassailable, and Walter Lewis- the father of the CM movement whose ideas are not always as sound- must admit it might not work.

There are at least two problems with changing from our mayor-council to a CM system.

The first is that changing the system doesn’t change the people who corrupt the system. Good people will make a bad governance system thrive and bad people can corrupt the best of systems.

The argument – and the only argument we’ve heard- is that a CM system will put a hired professional in charge of the day-to-day management of the County. But that assumption presumes that those hiring the person will hire someone for their professional expertise and not for their political affinity with those doing the hiring.

As a matter of fact, the current Charter calls for the Mayor to appoint an Administrative Assistant (AA) whose job description almost matches that of a CM, except for how he or she is appointed. If the Charter was changed to have the current AA require Council confirmation it might just accomplish what people have proposed without a huge shakeup... although perhaps a huge shakeup is what those urging change have in mind to begin with in the face of an electorate that re-elects the seemingly unelectable over and over.

While there are many different county manager systems, usually a council appoints some sort of de facto Mayor from among themselves and then hires someone to actually administrate the various departments- as our so-called “strong Mayor” currently does- many times under that appointed Mayor’s oversight.

But it also removes the check and balance of having two separate bodies which essentially oversee each other’s activities. That is eliminated in most CM systems where the chain of command is a straight line.

If elected people are going to corrupt the system it’s much easier to do so with a CM because there’s no intergovernmental accountability. The pro-CM people argue that the Mayor and Council are always fighting and never get anything done. But “getting things done” is a two edged sword- there may be things people want done but there may be more things no one wants done.

As they say, Mussolini did make the trains run on time.

The second problem is in the actual change itself. The whole Charter of Kaua`i is based on a mayor-council system of governance. It is embedded in almost every sentence of every section. Just the physical task of changing it would be monumental, involving essentially creating a whole new Charter.

In addition although there are hundreds if not thousands of jurisdictions that use a CM system, there are also hundreds of differences from system to system. There are even hybrid structures.

Which one is right for Kaua`i? Only a careful analysis of where we are and where we want to be will even yield a system right for us. And then any document for the voters’ approval would have to be worked from scratch to mesh with the existing infrastructures, both tangible and intangible.

And, most importantly, that doesn’t even begin to address the cultural changes, both political and personal, and how to mesh them with where we are and want to be...

And all that assumes a CM system is where we want to be. As the exposition of problem #1 shows determining that is the first step here.

It would take thousands upon thousands of hours- and those would be billable hours- checking and cross checking every sentence of the old and new charter documents by governance and legal experts and attorney’s who would need to delve into the minutia of municipal law.

And those experts would have to be familiar with Kaua`i- we’re certainly not going to get a document that understands the needs, wants and aspirations of the populace of the Island from someone from the mainland, or even O`ahu for that matter.

We’ve been asking Mickens, Lewis and Taylor over and over to do some preliminary homework on these questions for the three years since the CM issue was brought up before the former Charter Commission. We’ve asked proponents for a list of model CM systems and an analysis of how they work, why they work or don’t work and why some rather than others would be appropriate for Kaua`i.. We’ve asked them to at least present a factual researched case for why a CM system would be theoretically better than the current system- all to no avail.

Instead we hear it is not that complex, and we never hear how it could not be in the face of a simple list of prudent things to do before we all get on the conga line to a CM future.

Why would one system be better- the “professionalism” of a CM is not inherent in the system just as it isn’t inherent in the Mayor-Council system even though it should be. And if that CM is a political appointee with no administrative abilities we’re in the same boat as now with the current crop of self-serving public servants, only there’s no oversight.

It is people who people these positions whether under a mayor-council or CM system. And it is people who make the system work- it just depends on who they make it work for, themselves or the public.

It would be like saying the water in our bath tub isn’t hot enough so we’re going to change from having a two separate hot and cold faucets to a single faucet set up. But you don’t need to be a plumber to see that isn’t going to work because the problem is in the water temperature, not how it’s delivered.

A county manager system would apparently also require changes in State law and even the State Constitution which delineates how the various counties are to set up their governance structure. Any attempt to put anything on the ballot would have to be preceded by changes at that level or fudging on our part to adhere to the current requirement for many elements of the mayor-council models in the various counties. It would also take changes to a plethora of state laws and administrative rules that are set up to have processes that deal with that administrative-legislative two body scheme.... not to mention the local administrative rules of the various departments.

It’s not as simple as Glenn, Ken, Walter and others would have us believe- you can’t just put a question on the ballot saying “Do you want a CM system if governance on Kaua`i?”

If the proponents of a CM system want to build support for even investigating whether we want to change governance structure- and if so what specific system and, once one is chosen, how do we actually assemble the nuts and bolts of the various constitutional, legislative and administrative initiatives at both the state and county levels? They need to get busy and do some homework in order to get the ball rolling enough to convince people that changing the structure will change the level of good governance, even just in theory.

But to say “it’s easy- just click the heels of your flip-flops and say three time ‘there’s no place like ‘County Manager’” won’t make it happen- nor should it..


Anonymous said...

andy, its not rocket science. what do you suggest- the status quo? are you satisfied with the outcomes of the current structure? sure we want accountability from our leaders in office; do we get that now? why not try some thing different like districting and a county manager? sure we could come up with lots of reasons why or why not but the bottom line is without some significant changes/restructuring we will continue to get less than what we bargained for and certainly the short end of the stick. sometimes i wonder if you only see it from the negative and pessimistic side of things. give glenn, ken, ed and the other watchdogs a break and try to look at the pluses before biting holes in the tires and pissing in the tank of the dogpound wagon.
peace,.........jimmy t

Anonymous said...

Great article. It is very interesting and informative!

Andy Parx said...

The problem I see with a CM system Jimmy is it is more prone to abuse not less. And our problem, at least in my view, isn't the system it's the people who occupy the offices. If it were some kind of simple fix that would be one thing. But a complicated change for change sake doesn't make sense.

I've had this very conversation for three, almost four years but haven't gotten the research or homework. It's not being negative or pessimistic it's finding a place to put this huge amount of energy it will take into something that has the probability of achieving the goal - not just shooting the marble into the pack and seeing what happens. I see lots of reasons why not and very few for why other than shaking things up.

As I've said many times there are specific Charter measures I'd be really enthusiastic about- and elected Planning Commission, official elected and funded neighborhood/watershed boards, an elected County Attorney and reform of the description of the office and function.

I just think we need to carefully look at the upsides and downsides before we jump over the cliff.

Anonymous said...

i see mel has a similar perspective on it as well. i agree that we need to think things thru but at the same time when so much resistance is found it makes the skeptical mind kick in and wonder what's the deal?
the other charter changes you suggest would make for great public debate- especially the elected planning committee. it does boil down to us doing the homework and presenting the proposal in a populist way to generate public support for change and improvements and not just for change's sake. how to motivate others to show up at council/commission meetings to affect the agenda and the content of the meetings. keep pushing it!