Wednesday, November 12, 2008


NEW LEADER, NEW PACK?: One of the most contentious issues among the electorate if not the candidates during the election to replace the late Mayor Bryan Baptiste was the fate of the many department heads.

Charges of everything from total incompetence to crony-based malfeasance have been leveled against almost every one of the appointees some of whom have served two Republican administrations for up to 14 years

But in an article in today’s Honolulu Advertiser Democratic Mayor-elect Bernard Carvalho indicates he well may keep many of those under fire.

According to Diana Leone’s report

Carvalho won't announce any of his Cabinet members until he has the whole roster worked out, he said. He would only say that his appointees will include current county officials and newcomers.

"We don't want to burn bridges," Carvalho said of his decision to talk with each person who wants to stay on, instead of using the traditional group resignation to make way for a new mayor.

That indicates that those hoping for checks and balances to effectuate change when department head “confirmations” come up before the council may be in for a disappointment.

The article states that

Among the appointments will be an administrative assistant, who on Kaua`i functions as the deputy mayor; directors of the departments of finance, parks, and public works; the county attorney; and leaders of the economic development, housing, elderly affairs, transportation and public information offices.

The police and fire chiefs, and planning and emergency management directors are appointed by citizen commissions. As mayor, Carvalho eventually will get a chance to make appointments to those commissions, but only as vacancies comes up.

But here’s what the Charter says about whether the terms of department heads end with the swearing in of a new mayor

Section 6.04. Appointment and Removal of Officers and Employees.

A) The administrative assistant to the mayor and all department heads shall be appointed and may be removed by the mayor, except as otherwise provided by this charter.

Though it might appear ambiguous it does say they are appointed by THE mayor, not a past one. But the reality is that the council has absolutely no say over these department heads... with one exception.

According to Section 8.02.

The county attorney shall be appointed and may be removed by the mayor, with the approval of the council.

With that exception all department heads- whether created by Charter or by a vote of five members of the council- are appointed by the mayor or an overseeing board or commission with no say by the council.

Just for future reference this is the list of Charter created departments and the way their heads are selected.

Section 10.02. Appointment and Removal of Director or Finance. The director of finance shall be appointed and may be removed by the mayor.

Section 11.04. Chief of Police. The chief of police shall be appointed by the police commission.

Section 12.02. Fire Chief. The fire chief shall be appointed and may be removed by the mayor. (note- though this appears in the on-line version of the charter at the county web-site it has been replaced by a Fire commission which appoints the chief in a charter change made in the 2006 election)

Section 13.02. County Engineer. The county engineer shall be appointed and may be removed by the mayor.

Section 14.04 (Planning) Director. The planning director shall be appointed and may be removed by the (planning) commission.

Section 15.04. Director of Personnel Services. The director of personnel services... shall be appointed and may be removed by the (civil service) commission.

Section 16.05 (Liquor Control Commission).Director. The director shall be appointed and may be removed by the liquor control commission.

Section 17.04. (Water Board) Staff. The board shall appoint an engineer duly registered under Hawaii State laws pertaining to registration of engineers. He shall be known as the manager and chief engineer and shall be the head of the department.

Section 18.01. Civil Defense Agency. There shall be a civil defense agency whose powers, duties, functions and organization shall be as provided by law.

(note: The head of the Department of Parks and Recreation is also a charter created post but is also has not been added at the county web-site since it’s 2006 approval by voters but we believe, from memory, it is not an appointment subject to council approval)

Unfortunately, unlike almost every other jurisdiction in the county- and every one in the state- the laws of Kaua`i expressed in the County Code are not available on-line so it is difficult to establish which of the non charter-created agency heads might be subject to council approval, if any.- if memory serves there are none.

Assuming the answer is zero with the exception of the county attorney it seems that for all practical (if not political) purposes it doesn’t really matter whether Carvalho “keeps” department heads or reappoints those over whom he has to power of appointment.

Many wonder why the Kaua`i system of governance is referred to as a “strong mayor” system by many and this is one reason- the council has little or no power over the people who run the county,

The other is this short little ditty from the end of the county council charter section

Section 3.18. Restrictions on County Council and Council members. The council and its members shall not interfere with the administrative processes delegated to the mayor.

Except for the purpose of investigative inquiries under Section 3.17, the council or its members, in dealing with county employees, or with county officers who are subjected to the direction and supervision of the mayor, shall deal solely through the mayor. and neither the council nor its members shall give orders to any such employee or officer either publicly or privately.

The upshot is that the council is expected to appropriate money and enact the laws to run the county but has zero access to accurate information on the essential “how’s that going” questions.

And they have little or no recourse should they not get it.

The council essentially doles out cash and passes laws defining what administration personnel are supposed to do in a complete vacuum. They have to “request” the very appearance of a department head cannot even require that they tell the truth in their testimony.

This leads to citizen cries for fiscal responsibility on the part of the council without them having any tools to hold the administration personnel accountable for what they do with the money except on a voluntary basis

The council can of course launch a full fledged “investigation” where they can quasi-judicially swear in witnesses and compel accurate testimony

But an investigation is a high cost, time-consuming and unwieldy process that has never been used despite calls for a public works department investigation from citizens and even some councilmembers.

This has all led many to call for a new structure whereby a “county manager” would be hired by the council and the job of mayor would become strictly ceremonial.

But if the problems of a “strong mayor” system is in the lack of a balance- as in the term “checks and balances”- it seems the same might be said of an even “strong(er) council” system.

A more sensible approach might be to revise these two areas of the charter making all appointments of department and agency heads subject to council approval and allowing the council to initiate removal processes rather than waiting for the mayor to do so..

The second step would be to allow the council to compel the appearance of department heads to appear before them and designate their testimony to be subject to perjury-like charges of lying to the council.

The current set up isn’t working and the reason can be put squarely on the “strong mayor, weak council” system set up in our charter.

Some worry about a similar lack of balance in the new “strong council, weak mayor” system specifically detailed in the county manager proposal put before the charter commission by commissioner Walter Bryant this year.

It might be about time we actually take the time and energy to deconstruct the nuts and bolts of what is hanging up the machinery of county government and change the cogs enough to get this contraption running smoothly.

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