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Consensus Positions on City Council Study

January-February 1980

INTRODUCTION By April 1, 1981, the Mayor must appoint a Charter Review Commission "to study and review the operation of the government of the City." (Honolulu City Charter Sec. 15-105) In order to prepare ourselves to testify before the Commission, the League of Women Voters of Honolulu decided to reexamine four positions relating to the composition of the City Council. The final report of the 1972 Charter Commission declared that they "spent more time deliberating the size and composition of the Council than any other issue." We now feel that we have positions on three of the four topics. Our current membership has just arrived at these positions, and we feel that the League can speak before the Charter Review Commission, and elsewhere, confident that we have consensus on these points.

FULL-TIME/PART-TIME Four of the five units were quite strongly committed to the concept of a part-time council. The reasons most frequently cited were that part-time legislators kept their ties to the community because they still made their living in it. Having a council composed of full-time politicians would make the council more isolated from the community. There was a general feeling that the council takes on more duties than are necessary in its policy-setting role. It was felt that more and more the council tends to involve itself in purely administrative matters and details that properly should be left to the departments. The cost of a full-time council was also a factor in the discussion. While the cost per taxpayer for an increase to nine full-time salaries would not be very great, when retirement and other fringe benefits are added in, the cost would be substantial. Perhaps the cost could be justified if the community could be guaranteed better government, but no one felt that this would be the case. The question of undue influence that might be exerted on full-time council members was not thought to be of consequence. The basic factor here was the honesty of the individual council member.

Consensus The League of Women Voters supports a continuation of a part-time council which would be composed of members who devote a part of their lives to public service and who in return are paid a salary which reflects this part-time commitment.

LIMITED TERMS There was considerably less agreement on whether terms for council members should be limited, but a majority feeling emerged that limited terms were not a good idea. Most units felt that to limit terms was to infringe upon the rights of the electorate to vote for the person of their choice, though one unit (Windward Evening) felt that this argument did not sound convincing. It was pointed out that pressure from influential groups would not necessarily be curtailed by limiting terms. Such groups can usually influence some person time after time; it does not have to be the same person. It was pointed out that offices subject to limited terms (the President and our Governor) are administrative rather than legislative offices, and have considerably more power than council members. However, one unit (Windward Evening) and a small but firm minority in the other units, held that limited terms would be a desirable way to bring fresh ideas and perspectives and new people into government. Limiting terms would encourage people to run--people who might not wish to run against friends or entrenced incumbents. All the rest of the members seemed to think that it should be up to the electorate to limit the terms of council members by not returning them to office.

Consensus LWV does not support the concept of limited terms for City Council. CONSENSUS POSITIONS ON CITY COUNCIL STUDY January-February 1980

STAGGERED TERMS There was even less agreement by the units on the desirability of staggered terms. The argument that staggered terms offer a guarantee of continuity was not seen as very important by most units. The general observation was that most incumbents get reelected anyway, so in Honolulu continuity was not much of a problem. In Hawaii every election is interesting since either the Mayor or the Governor is elected. Therefore, staggered terms would not necessarily lend to a decrease in voter interest. The argument that seemed most impressive to some members was that if some of the council members were not up for reelection in the near future, courageous decisions would perhaps be made more readily. This was a strong argument in favor of staggered terms.

Generally, there was no overwhelming sentiment of members. One unit was pro, another against and three were divided. It was agreed, however, that if limited terms were approved, the terms would have to be staggered so that all the council members would not be brand new to the job every, e.g., 4 or 8 years.

Consensus LWV does not have a consensus position on staggered terms for council, unless terms are limited, in which case, staggered terms would provide continuity to the city council.

PARTISAN/NONPARTISAN There was substantial consensus in favor of nonpartisan city council elections. Members felt that nonpartisan elections would not undermine the two-party system. The fact that in most localities two strong parties do not exist is definitely true of Hawaii, so the concept of two parties struggling for control of the city council is not a valid one. Most members also seemed to think that party labels no longer hold the meaning that they once did. The percentage of independent voters is increasing. Many of the members felt that the job of council member did not lend itself to any particular political party philosophy.

There were a few cautionary notes expressed in the general approval of nonpartisan elections. It was noted that women candidates would find it harder to run without party backing. And although the party does not routinely assist candidates with funds, they do provide help in the form of designing brochures and campaign strategy, etc.

Consensus LWV supports election of the city council on a nonpartisan basis.

AT LARGE/DISTRICT/MIX This was the topic which stirred the greatest interest and discussion in all the units. There was a great deal of dissatisfaction expressed with the present all-district arrangement. Many members spoke of feeling inadequately represented on the city council by their one council member. They also spoke of the necessity to look at how certain decisions will affect the county as a whole and how we need council members with a county-wide perspective.

No member was prepared to have all council members elected at large.

The main arguments against all at-large were the costs of campaigning and the feeling of remoteness from council members which the electorate was bound to feel. A few members were strongly in favor of retaining the present all-district system, They cited the greater accountability of district respresentation. One unit (Honolulu Evening) was somewhat in favor of fewer districts with multi-member representation.

CONSENSUS POSITIONS ON CITY COUNCIL STUDY

January-February 1980

By far the greatest sentiment was in favor of a district/at-large mix. Points in favor include the added leverage that the voter would have in being represented by one district and several at-large members. A mix would provide for representation of urban, suburban and rural lifestyles by districts and also provide for an island-wide point of view. Although it was feared that at-large candidates would be more vulnerable to appeals from special interests because of the greater cost of running island-wide, in the end it was decided that special interest funds could also find their way to all-district candidates as well. One unit (Windward Morning) thought that council should be enlarged to keep the present districts (realistically, council members will never vote to eliminate their own districts) and add several at-large seats. Several units felt that any mix should be weighted in favor of the districts (e.g., 5 district and 4 at-large seats in a 9-member council) to prevent a feeling of superiority on the part of the at-large members who have a wider constituency.

Consensus The League of Women Voters supports a council composed of some members elected by district and others elected at large. The number of district seats should exceed the number of at-large seats.

Submitted by LWV City Council Study Group:
Carol Chen
Claire Gregorcyk
June Sanders
Helen Griffin
Carla Coray & Claudia Patil, Co-Chairs

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