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HOOSER: Do’s, don’ts and shoulds for Kaua‘i council

What power and responsibilities are specifically granted to the council and its members?

The County Charter is essential reading for those serious about this question and understanding how the county works. (see paraphrased quotes) The charter can be found at

To be absolutely unequivocally clear, council members cannot tell county workers what to do. They’re not the boss of any county employee other than their own office staff.

“In dealing with County employees neither the Council nor its members shall give orders to any such employee or officer either publicly or privately. Any willful violation by a member of the Council shall be sufficient grounds for an action for his removal from office.”

If a council member tells a county employee how to do their job, which road to pave, permit to grant, or restroom to clean etc — that council member could be removed from office.

The main council responsibility seems obvious:

The mayor administrates and the council legislates. Their job is to pass county laws. “The legislative power of the County shall be vested in and exercised by the County Council.”

The most important law is the county budget ordinance which funds the operation of every department. “The Council shall enact an annual budget ordinanc … and shall provide sufficient revenues (property taxes) to assure a balanced budget.”

The council reviews the mayors budget proposal and decides which programs to grow and which to shrink. The council also establishes property tax rates and structure.

While the council may not tell county employees what to do, it is responsible for and empowered by the charter to provide oversight of county operations via its audit and investigatory authority.

“To ensure and determine whether government services are being efficiently, effectively, and economically delivered, the council may at any time provide for a performance audit of any county operations.”

However, the council has never in recent memory utilized this power. They authorize financial audits of the budget, but have chosen not to conduct management or performance audits of individual county programs or departments.

We’ve all heard horror stories of inefficient government agencies — wasteful spending, excessive overtime, understaffing, overstaffing, poor cash control, and filing systems that consist of card board boxes piled upon other card board boxes.

The purpose of performance/management audits are to identify inefficiencies and recommend solutions. During the course of these audits more serious problems may also be discovered.

“There is established within the legislative branch an office of the county auditor … who shall be appointed by the county council.”

Thus, it’s the councils responsibility to hire thecCounty auditor which they have not done for a long, long time.

Initiating an audit or investigation into a county agency or program would no doubt irritate and anger those who might be the subject of such an review – and thus carries a political price. Consequently it’s rare (as in never) that the council will initiate such an action.

Government waste, fraud, abuse, misfeasance, and malfeasance at all levels are often in the headlines. Every county in Hawaii has had employees go to jail this past year for theft or bribery.

“The Council shall have the power to conduct investigations of any agency, subpoena witnesses and compel the production of books and papers.”

When there’s evidence of serious problems in any department or program, perhaps something that comes up during a performance or management audit, the council has the power and the duty to investigate. But they don’t or at least they haven’t, because of course no such audits occur.

There you have it. Council members are not the boss of any county employee except their own staff. They’re empowered to pass laws (which they do) and provide oversight of all county programs via their audit and investigatory authority (which they don’t).
Source: The Garden Island

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