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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 30, 2006

Charter proposals down to 42

By Robbie Dingeman
Advertiser Staff Writer


Here's a look at key steps and information in the Charter Commission process:

Tuesday: 2 p.m., Honolulu Hale, City Council Committee Room, second floor. Voting on proposals: elections, term limits, increasing size of City Council, ethics, Neighborhood Commission, dedicated money for conservation and affordable housing.

May 10: 2 p.m., Honolulu Hale, City Council Committee Room, second floor. Tentatively voting on proposals on planning and zoning, curbside recycling, bicycle-friendly policy, city department descriptions.

September: Final list of charter amendment proposals published.

Nov. 7: General election.

To see the full list of proposals: Visit the Charter Commission Web site at www.honolulu .gov/chc or contact the commission staff at 592-8622, charter@honolulu.gov or the office at 711 Kapi'olani Blvd. Suite 1485 Honolulu, HI 96813.

To comment: Attend the meetings. Register to speak by calling 592-8622 or e-mailing charter @honolulu.gov, or fill out a sign-up form at the meeting. Written testimony can be sent by mail to the Charter Commission, 711 Kapi'olani Blvd., Suite 1485, Honolulu, HI 96813; by fax to 592-8633; and by e-mail to charter@honolulu.gov.

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Proposals to add more City Council members, mandate curbside recycling and work toward a bicycle-friendly city are among dozens of issues the Honolulu Charter Commission is still considering putting before voters in November.

This week, the 13-member commission holds the first of two critical meetings to vote on which of 42 remaining proposals will go on the ballot. Commission chairman Donn Takaki said the commission held more than 20 meetings to narrow the 108 proposals submitted to the current list.

"This vote is when we determine what goes on the ballot," Takaki said. "The August vote is simply to improve the language that we use."

The commission is charged with proposing how city government can run better through amendments to the charter, the legal document that spells out how the county government works.

Still alive are proposals to establish urban-growth boundaries, adopt "green" building standards, allow the city Ethics Commission to impose civil fines, increase the number of City Council members from the current nine to 11 or 13; delete the requirement for Social Security numbers on petitions; and delete the ban on political activities by Honolulu Police Department employees.

City Council Chairman Donovan Dela Cruz said the commission's work is "extremely important" because the charter sets up the framework of city government and can affect everything from the number of council members to the budget.

While the commission has encouraged public participation, Dela Cruz said narrowing the number of proposals that go on the ballot is important.

He said previous elections have shown that people pay more attention to the proposals when there is a short list to consider. "When there are too many, it can often get confusing. The tendency is to just vote 'no,' " he said.

Takaki added that the history of ballot questions shows that voter interest drops off when the number of questions increases.

"After 10 questions, the percentage of people who would vote 'yes' or 'no' would fall dramatically," he said.

While the commission resisted a specific number limit on questions, Takaki said members are aware that "it's not a good idea to overload the ballot with questions" and that some of the more routine questions can be combined.

Out of 108 proposals submitted to the commission, 42 remain under consideration. The greatest number of proposals concern city departments and directors' duties (10), the planning and zoning process (seven), "housekeeping" measures (six) and ethics and open government (five).

In January, the commission rejected a proposal that would have capped assessed property values at 2004 levels.

Despite taxpayer outrage over soaring assessments and property tax bills, the commission said the proposal would have tied the hands of government officials.

Takaki hopes for more public input as the commission moves to make final recommendations.

"We hope that everyone will take a look at the proposed amendments and tell us what changes they would like to see in the City Charter," he said.

The charter requires that the mayor and the City Council appoint a commission every 10 years to review the charter and present suggested changes to the voters on the general election ballot.

Reach Robbie Dingeman at rdingeman@honoluluadvertiser.com.