LIHUE — In the future, amending the Kauai County Charter via a citizen’s petition could be more difficult.
On Monday, the County of Kauai Charter Review Commission discussed, and later deferred for one month, a proposal that would quadruple the number of signatures required to petition an amendment to the charter from 5 to 20 percent of registered voters.
“My recollection is this is the lowest bar in any county,” Commission Vice Chair Jan TenBruggencate, who introduced the proposal, said of the current process.
TenBruggencate said there have been at least two occasions where people have been misled and used the charter amendment process to pass something that, more appropriately, might have been an initiative.
As a result, he said, those people had their proposals thrown out in court at a great cost to the county.
“My fundamental point is that changing the county charter — the basic organizational document of county government — ought to be harder than passing a law,” TenBruggencate said. “And currently in the County of Kauai, at least with respect to getting things on the ballot, it’s the opposite way.”
Petitioning an amendment with the proper amount of signatures puts an item on the ballot for voters to consider.
While it takes only 5 percent of registered voters to petition a charter amendment, 20 percent of voter signatures are required to put forth an ordinance or referendum, for example, and that too would only get an ordinance issue on a ballot.
“That’s something that we need to resolve,” TenBruggencate said.
Not everyone on the commission agreed.
Even if the commission voted to support the proposal, sending it to a public vote in November, Commissioner Ed Justus said he couldn’t imagine community members backing something that makes it harder for them to change their government.
“I don’t think it has a chance of passing at all,” he said. “It’s counterintuitive to the American thinking.”
Commissioner Carol Suzawa said she felt the current 5 percent is not enough.
There are roughly 40,000 registered voters on Kauai.
If anything, TenBruggencate said the number of required signatures for initiatives and referendums should be lower than that for charter amendments. Right now, people are wasting time trying to do through the charter process what should be done through initiatives and referendums simply because it’s easier.
“That’s my view,” he said. “I know I’m going to take some hits for it.”
Michael Shooltz of Kauai Rising said he came to the meeting Monday because he was concerned about what the change would mean, if anything, for him and other community members currently collecting signatures for a citizens’ initiative aimed at regulating the GMO industry on Kauai.
At first glance, Shooltz said the proposal seemed like another attempt to strip away county rights.
TenBruggencate assured Shooltz that even if the proposal got on the November ballot and passed, it wouldn’t impact Kauai Rising’s proposed charter amendment.
Ultimately, the commission voted to defer any decision on the proposal until next month’s meeting.
“It’s potentially a months-long process, and it may not get done in time for this election,” TenBruggencate said. “But it’s a discussion that is beginning.”
• Chris D’Angelo, environment writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.