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First Hawaii County Charter amendment moves to the ballot

July 3, 2014 - 6:15am

Hawaii County voters will get an opportunity in the Nov. 4 General Election to decide whether the county clerk should serve a four-year term, even though council members are elected for just two years.

The ballot amendment passed 7-1 Wednesday by the County Council is a compromise from the original bill that would have had the clerk serve a six-year term and be removed only for cause.

“The bill as currently written, it is taking a leap of faith,” said the bill’s author, council Chairman J Yoshimoto, before the changes. “The reality of the situation is, that might be a little too idealistic.”

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.

“I feel the clerk works for all of us as a council,” said Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille, who crafted the compromise. “You’re here at the behest of the council as a whole.”

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

South Kona/Ka‘u Councilwoman Brenda Ford voted no, saying the bill has become so watered down that it doesn’t do anything. She pushed again for minimum qualifications for the clerk.

“Now you’ve got it back in the political realm again,” Ford said. “The majority on the council can shift very quickly.”

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.

Ocean View resident Richard Abbett, a District 6 council candidate, said the county should go even further and make the clerk an elected position. Abbett has testified on the bill every time it has appeared on the agenda.

“Making this position an elected nonpartisan position of four years would optimize the public’s ability to hold accountable the office of county clerk in the absence of any prerequisite qualifications and/or experience,” Abbett said in testimony. “Studies have shown an elected clerk results in a greater number of voters registered, higher voter turnout and more accurate voter roll purges.”

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.