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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 2, 2006

City politics may be in for change

By Jerry Burris
Advertiser Columnist


Copies of the proposed charter amendments are at www.honolulu.gov.chc. Copies also are available at the commission office at 711 Kapi'olani Blvd., Suite 1485, or at the Municipal Library at City Hall annex, 558 S. King St. Or call 592-8622.

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If you've been thinking politics or elections these days, your thoughts likely laser in on headline races such as the contest for governor or the challenge Ed Case has mounted within the Democratic Party against Sen. Dan Akaka.

And true, this is where the personalities and drama rests.

But if you live and vote in Honolulu, there's another matter headed to the ballot this fall that could have a bigger impact on your life than any of those political contests.

We're talking here about proposed changes to the Ho-nolulu Charter that will likely be recommended by a group of citizens taking a fresh look at the basic "constitution" of city government.

The 2005-2006 Honolulu Charter Commission has been meeting for months and has winnowed more than a hundred ideas and suggestions down to 42 proposals. They have presented the proposals at a series of community meetings. The last in this round of meetings is at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Haha'ione Elementary School cafeteria in Hawai'i Kai.

Over the next two months, the commission will further revise and winnow the proposals. The final selections are to be placed on the general election ballot this fall.

Obviously, it is not clear at this point what will make it to the ballot. But the general thrust of commission is clear. If its proposals end up on the ballot and being approved, there'll be a different vibe around City Hall next year.

For instance, rather than the nine council members we have today, we could have either 11 or 13 members, making for smaller council districts and more complicated voting patterns on the council itself.

And the term limits for council members approved in 1992 would be wiped out. That term limit provision resulted in a major turnover of council personalities.

A different proposal would require curbside recycling. In effect, this idea now on hold would become a "constitutional" right of the residents of Honolulu.

Some of the more controversial proposals aim at embedding strong land-use controls and environmental ethics in the charter itself.

Among them is a "growth management" plan that would make it politically much tougher to expand urban areas or encroach on existing agricultural land. Another proposal would install an "environmental bill of rights" in the charter, and yet another would set aside a small percentage of property tax collections specifically for environmental protection.

If these proposals and others get onto the ballot and are approved, Honolulu will be a significantly different place. The time to begin thinking about all this is right now.

Jerry Burris is The Advertiser's editorial page editor.

Reach Jerry Burris at jburris@honoluluadvertiser.com.