Council Chair: ‘Let’s Evaluate a Move Away From Cronyism’
Upcountry Councilmember Mike White (Makawao, Ha’ikū, Pā’ia), chair of the Maui County Council, spoke to a concerned group of Rotarians and guests at the Rotary Club of Upcountry Maui meeting on Friday morning, Nov. 13.
One of the main issues discussed was a proposal to replace the county’s mayoral form of government with a county manager.
Councilman White referred this resolution to the Maui County Committee on Policy and Intergovernmental Affairs, which has selected 11 residents to serve on a special advisory committee tasked with studying and providing recommendations on a county manager form of governance.
The advisory group’s membership seats were allotted from each of the voting districts and two at-large seats were selected to review the results.
“Good people should be chosen, but not necessarily on the basis of helping somebody with their campaign,” said White.
“We have some fantastic department heads,” White said. “Dave Goode [director of Public Works] does a great job, and Dave Taylor [director of the Department of Water Supply], too, although I’ve had some disagreements on the way he has handled the Upcountry water meter waiting list process. I think he knows his stuff. He’s very good.”
White later also mentioned Teena Rasmussen, director of the Office of Economic Development, who, he said, “is doing a fabulous job. I just wish that we could have a system to select people more people like Teena,” White added.
“But we also have a number of people who have been appointed for no other reason than they were a former council person or a former opponent of the mayor,” White said. “When I see the level of expertise in some areas, but the lack of expertise and lack of work ethic in others, it tells me that it’s time to take a look at our form of governance.
“Part of the challenge is that no one wants to get rid of the mayor if they’re going to run for mayor,” White said. “There are people on the council who are going to run. There are also others who have friends who are going to run for mayor, so it’s going to be a tough challenge to see whether this is going to make sense… ”
White said he spoke with the Maui County Cost of Government Commission recently, who, he said, will be looking at various county manager structures and their cost effectiveness.
White said he has learned a lot through his experience in management over the years.
“Sunday is my 30th anniversary in management at the Kāʻanapali Beach Hotel,” White said. “I’ve had the opportunity to test things that I wouldn’t otherwise be able to test… ”
Through this experience and during his upbringing, White learned to “always do what’s right, lead by example and be positive.”
“How does that transfer into government?” White asked. “It’s really tough, because you’re responsible for holding the council and the mayor accountable.”
“People are always asking me why I’m on the mayor’s case,” said White. “I really don’t think I am. We agree with whole lot more things then we disagree on.
“During the last election I got all kinds of flak and the mayor was on the radio twice a week badmouthing me and other members of the council,” White said. “So I asked my staff to go back and count how many bills came to my committee during the time I was budget chair and how many passed. They gave us 101 bills and we passed out 100. So was that really me being a roadblock?”
Maui Now sought comment from the mayor, but the request was not returned at the time of this publication.
“I do ask tough questions,” White said, adding, “That is what we’re supposed to do.”
He said he is hard on the county department heads, because “at the current rate, the amount residents and businesses will have to pay in operating costs by 2017 in just cost increases alone from collective bargaining will be equal to the property taxes collected from all of Kahului, Wailuku and my district of Makawao, Ha’ikū and Pā’ia.”
“How do we generate that money?” White asked. “Why aren’t the department heads going out and looking for positions that they don’t need to create the ones they do need?”
To some degree they’ve done that, said White, but he said this problem has been described as “pitting one department head against another.”
White responded, “Sorry, but that’s leadership.”
White said at the hotel lost 35% of its revenue “when 2008 hit.” He didn’t lay anyone off. His solution was not to replace employees who left.
His managers weren’t happy, but, he said, “Everybody rose to the occasion.”
“This is the reason why I think it’s time to at least evaluate moving to a different kind of management style that will allow us to get away from cronyism,” said White.
“My interest is getting politics out of government as much as I can, because I see what it does when we give jobs to friends who don’t really know what they’re doing,” said White.
“I’m just looking at being able to move in that direction,” said White.
The advisory committee has 180 days to complete its work and report back to the County Council. This timeframe was decided upon to allow the council the opportunity to review the committee’s findings, make changes as needed, and if it sees fit, put a charter amendment question on the general election ballot. It will take an affirmative vote by at least six members for a charter amendment to appear on a general election ballot.
Once on the ballot and if the measure is passed by voters, there will be a potential two-year transition period.
The current mayor’s term ends in 2018 and a professional manager might be hired at that time if the measure is voted in.
If the proposed timeframe is not met, the next opportunity for a ballot measure would be in 2018—in conjunction with the next mayoral election. This would mean the transition to county manager, if voted in, would not be possible until 2021, when the next mayoral term would end.
“There’s no guarantees it [the charter amendment] will get the required six votes,” said White, “but if there’s enough interest to put it on the ballot and if it gets on the ballot, it generally takes six to nine months to go from a mayoral form to a city manager form. It doesn’t mean the mayor is out of office. It means in the next term, a county manager would take the place of the mayor.”
White said, “It is my hope that the International City/County Managers Association, which is a resource for nearly 9,000 city, towns and counties on professional management, will be a resource for the special advisory committee.”
“This is a far from over,” White said.
The resolution appointing the special committee will be considered by the council on Friday, Dec. 4, 2015. Once it is adopted by the council, then the special committee will commence its work.
Maui Now LINKS
11 Members Identified for Special Committee on New County Governance
County Manager Governance Details Narrowed, Committee to Reconvene
Advisory Group Sought to Review County Manager Form of Governance