Your chance to change city Charter
By Donn Takaki
Last summer, the Charter Commission asked the public: "If you ran the city, how would you change Honolulu's government?" We received more than 100 formal proposals and numerous other comments and spent many months considering all the ideas. As the commission reaches the final decision process, we invite you to get involved in shaping the future of our city government.
The 2005-2006 Charter Commission began over a year ago, when 13 volunteers were appointed to review the city Charter. Charter commissions are convened once in a decade — and this is only the fourth Charter Commission since the adoption of our Charter in 1972.
The Charter plays a critical role in establishing the foundation of city government. As the "constitution" of our city, the charter determines the structure of city elections, departments and agencies, and legislative and budget processes. The commissioners are a diverse group with different viewpoints, knowledge and talents, but they have worked together well toward fulfilling their collective mission.
The commission has dedicated the past year to reaching out and gathering public input, and we have been encouraged and pleased by the response so far. We began by asking for ideas from the public for improving life in Honolulu via a news conference and series of advertisements and radio spots. In recent months, we advertised and held nearly 20 public meetings in Honolulu Hale and three community meetings around the island. We have aimed to reach a wide audience of our fellow residents.
Commissioners have volunteered many hours listening to testimony from residents, city officials and representatives of organizations. Many of our meetings have lasted well into the evening to allow us to hear from everyone who wanted to be heard.
The commission has narrowed the list to 42 proposals for making our city government more effective, efficient and participatory. These proposed Charter amendments span an enormous range of topics, illustrating the many roles that city government carries out each day. The proposals would revamp areas such as elections, department descriptions, neighborhood boards, government ethics and the budget process. These amendments also deal with issues that will affect Hawai'i for years to come, including land-use policy and recycling.
We thank everyone who has participated so far in this process and hope to hear from more voices in the coming weeks. Numerous individuals and organizations have come out to testify on issues such as urban growth boundaries, bicycle and pedestrian policy and funding for conservation and affordable housing. On the other hand, very few have testified on some potentially noteworthy ideas, such as increasing the number of City Council members or establishing a transit authority.
We invite the public to provide input at our meetings in the coming weeks. At these meetings, the Charter Commission will decide which of the remaining proposals will go on the November 2006 general election ballot. Please take a look at the 42 proposals (posted online; see the adjacent box) and tell us which ones are truly worthy of being put on the ballot this fall.
We hope you will participate in this rare and important opportunity to amend the city Charter and help make city government better for all of us.
Donn Takaki is chairman of the 2005-2006 Honolulu Charter Commission. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.