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Six-year clerk term could make November ballot

June 6, 2014 - 8:03pm

The county clerk would serve for six years, under a charter amendment that squeaked through the Hawaii County Council on Wednesday.

The proposed ballot amendment, Bill 253, the only one of three proposals surviving first reading, faces a second and third reading before being offered to voters on the Nov. 4 ballot. The council voted 6-3, just making the required two-thirds vote in favor.

Hilo Councilman Dennis Onishi, Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille and South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford voted no.

Currently, the clerk is appointed by the council chairman, with confirmation by the council majority. As council chairmen change every two years, that has left the clerk’s office with a new boss just as often.

The clerk administers council meetings, oversees elections in the county and is the custodian of the county seal.

The vote came after the council batted away an amendment by Onishi that would have shortened the term to four years and an amendment by Ford to create minimum requirements for the position.

The purpose is to bring more stability to what is essentially a ministerial position, rather than have the clerk change every two years with the council chairman. The new term would start with the clerk appointed for 2014-16.

The clerk could be terminated for cause by a two-thirds vote of the council.

“It’s still going to be a political process every six years, but it would be less volatile,” said Council Chairman J Yoshimoto, the bill sponsor. “It would be less likely (the clerk) would be changed for political reasons rather than job performance.”

Ocean View resident Richard Abbett, a District 6 council candidate, said the county should go even further and make the clerk an elected position. He said studies have shown that having appointed officials increases public apathy.

“Here in Hawaii, we have now sunk to the very bottom nationally of voter turnout,” Abbett said. “This bill offers an opportunity to reverse direction and begin the climb back to respectability and public trust if it is amended to make the position elected and eliminate the appointment.”

Two other bills that would have put amendments on the ballot were killed when sponsor Ford couldn’t get anyone to second her motions.

Counties have until Aug. 21 to submit proposed charter amendments to the state Office of Elections to be placed on the ballot in the General Election. The three bills considered Monday are the only ones considered thus far.