Better Kauai Government

SUBHEAD: We have an opportunity to change our future with a better system of local government.  

By Walter Lewis on 13 June 2009 in The Garden Island -

Image above: The Munchkin Mayor with Dorothy in the "Wizard of Oz". From (

 It’s time, Kaua‘i - to wake up and reach out for a better system of government. At present our system provides that the chief executive of our island, the mayor, who is responsible for the administration of annual budgets of about $220 million, has only two qualifications for his position. He must be over 30 years of age and a resident.

The typical previous business experience of our last four mayors was by one who had a small florist shop in the civic auditorium. If Kaua‘i was your $220 million business, would you want someone with that paltry experience to manage it? There is a better way.

The majority of the cities and counties of our country with size and population characteristics similar to Kaua‘i have as their chief executive a person responsible for managing their operations who has been trained by education and experience for these duties. Each year more and more locations are moving to the county manager system. This “county manager” typically has a post graduate degree from a major university in administration of public affairs and three or more years of experience in the field.

That certainly beats the being 30 years of age standard. The Kaua‘i government now consists of a County Council that provides the legislative function, and the mayor, who has the administrative duties. The system is dysfunctional in its lack of accountability.

To perform its legislative and oversight duties, the council frequently seeks testimony from county department heads who consider that they work for the mayor and have no duties to the council. Many of these department heads don’t even bother to respond to the call from the council, and when they do more often than not they are unprepared to furnish the information being sought. In a county manager environment, the manager is appointed by and responsible to the council. This has two further effects.

The county manager, being responsible to the council, would oversee and assure that county employees meet the reasonable requirements of the council. And the council will have increased responsibility to the voters as it will not be able to blame the mayor as it does now for failures that occur.

Under our present system, the mayor has the duty to appoint most of the heads of the county operating departments such as public works and finance. He also appoints members of county boards and commissions. Unfortunately, some of these appointments are given to persons as patronage for assistance in the mayor’s campaigns and not as they should on the basis of merit and qualifications.

With a county manager who is not elected, these appointments would avoid any patronage factors. Another often overlooked favorable feature of the council-manager system is its stability in that department heads are not replaced with the advent of each new mayor as they are frequently at present. This stability avoids the inefficiency from unneeded employee turnover. Skeptical county officials will offer the lame “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” old saw. They just don’t know how bad things really are. With a council-manager system, county operations will be more efficient.

Wasteful and possibly corrupt practices will be eliminated. The results of these changes would be a government more effectively performing its services and with a lower cost of government there will be less taxes to pay.

A recent survey of the best run county governments found that over 80 of the top 100 had a council-manager system. International City/County Managers Association is a trade association of county managers in the numerous cities and counties where the manager system now exists. David Mora, a senior member of the staff of this association, who has had many years hands on experience in municipal manager systems, will be arriving on Kaua‘i to provide information and answer questions about the system.

Mora will make a moderated presentation at the War Memorial Auditorium in Lihu‘e on June 15 at 6 p.m. It will be televised by Ho‘ike. If you want to have a more efficient government and lower taxes, please come with your friends to attend this event and hear about how cities and counties across the country have discovered and are successfully using this better means of government.

As good as it is, the installation of a manager system won’t happen here automatically. In order for the system to begin, it must first be approved as a measure for a Charter amendment by the Charter Review Commission and then be adopted by a majority vote of the electorate.

The commission now has committee headed by a strong advocate of the manager system, Carol Ann Davis, but she needs citizen support at commission meetings so that the commission will accept its responsibility to offer the council-manager proposal to the voters. The best way to assist is to attend the commission’s monthly meetings, but you can also register your views by mailing the commission (Kaua‘i County Charter Review Commission, 4444 Rice Street, Lihu‘e, HI 96766) or e-mailing it at

When the Charter Review Commission acts to place a council-manager system on the ballot, the people of our county will then need to be responsive to this opportunity by assisting in the campaign to approve the proposal and then voting for its adoption. The path to a system of government that actually works is within our grasp. We don’t need tangled inefficiency and wasteful expenditures that continue to grow. Let’s take advantage of this outstanding opportunity and change our future.

Note from Carol Ann Davis-Briant
If you would like to learn about a different form of county government that would be more efficient and less costly please come to this important meeting to be held on Monday June 15th at 6:00 pm at the Kauai War Memorial Convention Hall. The city/county manager form of government is presently functioning in 60% of all communities across the United States and 80% of all California cities. The guest speaker will be Mr. David Mora, an experienced county executive, and board member of the International City/ County Managers Association.

As some of you may know, my late husband Walter Briant was a strong advocate of the County Manager form of Government. It is a very efficient way to manage the government. Walter felt that a trained person should be in charge of day to day and fiscal management of the government. As manager of the Kauai Department of Water for its first formative 20 years, Walter saw the necessity of having the government run by a trained manager.

This does not eliminate the need for a mayor but essentially changes some of the duties of that mayor. Please let the charter commission know you are interested by showing up on Monday June 15th at 6 pm to attend this important public forum on the County Manager form of Government.

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

wow dorothy looks to be 16 feet tall next to bernard

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