October, 1977 Home   Newsletters

November, 1977

December '77 - January '78

November Is Energy Month!
From the President (Helen Griffin)
Calendar for November
New Legislative Coalition Forming
Political Slips of Tongue
Rookie Camp for ConCon
This 'n That
Neighborhood Board Report
Urban Design and the Waterfront
Money for the League
Task Force on the City Charter - Third Report

Task Force on the City Charter - Third Report


The League's charter position says:

To provide separation of powers and checks and balances, the charter should retain the general distribution of power between the administration and the council as it is set forth in the present (1958) charter."

The League would oppose any attempts to define policy that would result in reducing the powers of either the council or the mayor; however, policy-making does need to be clarified for the community, although not necessarily in the charter itself.

What is the mayor's power? What is legislative power? What is policy and who establishes it?


  1. Legislative Power. What does it mean to say the Council is the policy-making body of the city? Policy is a course of action adopted and pursued by government. Lawmaking is central to policy-making, and the council's most important policy decisions are made in the passage of ordinances, including:

    • development plans for the various parts of Oahu;

    • zoning code and zoning ordinances; subdivision ordinance;

    • pay plan for city employees and officials;

    • city capital improvement and operating budgets;

    • legislative budget funding its own operation.

    The Council must adopt a balanced budget, so it also has the power (subject to State law) to raise revenues by:

    • - setting property tax rates (State determines assessed value)

    • authorizing the sale of bonds (within limits set by the State Constitution and the Charter);

    • fixing fees for all city services and facilities, except water.

    A check on the Council's legislative power is the mayor's power to veto ordinances. His veto, however, may be overturned by a 2/3 vote of the Council.

    The Council may also express policy through resolution which do not have the force of law. For example, the General Plan was adopted by resolution. Resolutions are not subject to mayoral veto, except those adopting or amending the General Plan, and those authorizing use of eminent domain to acquire land.

  2. Oversight. Another important Council power is overseeing the implementation of its policies by the administration. The Charter permits the Council to investigate city agencies and functions, as well as any subject on which it legislates. The Council must provide for an annual financial audit of all city functions to assure that funds are spent in accordance with legislative intent.

  3. Confirmation of mayoral appointments: The prosecuting attorney, corporation counsel, and all members of boards and commissions must be confirmed by the Council.

The Council is assisted in its duties by the City Clerk's Office, which acts as Council Secretary. and by the Office of Council Services. It may also hire special legal counsel and contract for special services if it has the money. Previously, the Council had little capacity to generate information or alternative points of view and had to depend largely on the administration.


The mayor is the chief executive of the city. His powers, which are those of a "strong mayor" include:

  1. Supervision of all executive agencies of the city. (See 2nd Report)

  2. Policy initiation. The Council enacts policy but the mayor has an important role in policy-making through his prerogative to recommend policy to the Council. Certain kinds of policy must be initiated by the administration: The executive program (6-yr expenditure plan) and capital and operating budgets; the General Plan and Development Plans; the executive pay plan. The Charter Commission emphasized the importance of the mayor's role in planning and budgeting by having these departments report directly to him. The mayor may also propose other kinds of ordinances and resolutions. His proposals may be modified or rejected by the Council. He may call the council into special session and provide it with information as he feels it necessary.

    The mayor also sets the tenor and direction for implementation of policies enacted by the council: he approves the rules and regulations enacted by administrative agencies; he has a voice, but no vote, on all boards and commissions established by the Charter or by ordinance; he can create or abolish positions in the executive branch.

  3. Financial Power. The mayor may veto the budgets (including the legislative budget) adopted by the council. He may strike or reduce items in the budget, subject to the council's override by a 2/3 vote. He can also choose not to spend, but he can't spend more than appropriated. The budget must provide the mayor with a contingency fund to spend as he sees fit.

  4. Power to appoint and remove without council approval all department heads except the corporation counsel and the prosecuting attorney.

  5. Reorganization. The mayor may propose to the council to reorganize the duties and functions of all executive agencies except those departments reporting directly to him, and any semi-autonomous departments (i.e. Bd of Water Supply). These proposals go into effect after 60 days, unless rejected by a 2/3 vote of the Council. There may be no more than 20 departments.

    (adapted from F&I, Charter; LWV of Honolulu 1971)

    The. Charter reserves the following powers to the public:

    1. Election of the mayor and council.

    2. Recall of the mayor and council (added in 1972 Charter). Recall is a way of removing a public official by popular vote. In Honolulu, 10% of those who voted in the last mayoral election, or in the council-member's district, can petition for a recall election. No more than 40% of the signatures to recall the mayor may come from a single council district. Recall election may not be held in the first or last year of the official's term. An official who is recalled or resigns under threat of recall may not hold city office for 2 years.

    3. Impeachment of mayor and council. 500 registered voters may petition setting forth written charges. The State Supreme Court acts as a Board of Impeachment to hear and rule on the charges. If the charges are upheld, the official is out of office.

    4. Initiative. The voters may initiate amendments to the Charter (but not legislation) by petition of 10% of those voting in the last mayoral election. The proposed amendment must be placed on the ballot at the next general election. The 1972 Charter dropped the requirement that the council approve all proposed Charter amendments. Aside from approval of the Charter and charter amendments, there is no provision for referendum in the Charter.

    5. Right to be heard - Public Hearings. Public hearings provide a way for government to inform the public about what it is going to do; and for residents to provide information, make suggestions, and agree or disagree with the proposal. The Charter requires hearings be held:

      by the Council

      1. before adopting or amending budgets(6-yr combined capital and operating program; annual exec. budget: legislative budget);
      2. before confirming mayoral appointees;

      3. before adoption or amendment of General Plan, Development Plan, zoning ordinances, and subdivision ordinance.

        (All other Council and committee public hearings are optional.)

      by the Planning Commission: before making recommendations to the Council on adoption or amendment of a General Plan, Development Plan, zoning ordinance or subdivision ordinance.

      by the Zoning Board of Appeals: before granting any variances.

      by Departments before adopting amending or repealing rules and regulations which affect the public. A Public Hearing is not required for rules and regs which relate to the organization and internal procedures of the agency.

      by the Board of Water Supply: before fixing rates and adopting the budget.

      by the Neighborhood Commission: prior to adopting or amending the Neighborhood Plan.
      (In addition, the Charter Commission provided a special vehicle for citizen participation and input into government through the Neighborhood Commission and Neighborhood Boards.)

    6. Right to Know.

      1. Public notices are found in the classified ads; they are required for:

        1. Public Hearings (see above). Notice must be published at least 10 days prior to the hearing and must be written in ,easily understood words.

        2. Ordinances - published by title after they are passed, with

          votes for and against. Specific bills (bond issues, improvement assessments) must be published in digest form after

          2nd reading.

        3. Resolutions authorizing eminent domain proceedings or for adoption or amendment of the General Plan.

        4. Notices inviting bids on city purchases and services (exceptions are listed on pp 51-2 of the Charter).

        5. Council meetings held out of City Hall.

      2. Open Meetings - all meetings and decision-making of the Council are open to the public except for consultation with Corp. Counsel or with staff or special counsel.

      3. Open Records - all books and records of the city, except certain ones in the Police Dept and Prosecuting Attorney's Office, are open to inspection by any citizen during working hours. Copies shall be provided on request, but for a fee.

      4. Annual Reports - the mayor must publish a written report of all city activities 6 mos. after the fiscal year ends. He may also use TV and radio to make this report.

      5. Office of Information and Complaint - answers questions about city policies, programs and operations.


    1. Revised Charter of the City and County of Honolulu, 1973.

    2. Final Report of the Charter Commission, City and County of Honolulu, 1971-1972.

    3. Facts and Issues, Charter, LWV of Honolulu, 1971.

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