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Giving Honolulu Ethics Commission more powers now in hands of voters

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Oahu voters will be asked this November if they want to give the Honolulu Ethics Commission more oversight over its budget and staff.

The City Council today voted unanimously to adopt Resolution 19-331, which puts on the General Election ballot the question off whether to give the seven-member Ethics Commission the final say over its budget. It’s been a thorny tug-and-pull between mayoral administrations and the commission for years, dating back to when longtime Executive Director Chuck Totto was at the helm and complained about the Department of Corporation Counsel having the final authority over the commission’s staffing and budget.

The language change voters are being asked to consider would specifically prohibit the withholding of funds from the commission once its annual budget is approved by the Council each year. The measure was introduced by Councilman Tommy Waters.

The Council also unanimously approved Resolution 20-83, which would change the Charter to allow the commission to be exempted from the city’s rigid job class specification plan. Introduced by Councilman Ron Menor on behalf of the commission, the language change would give the commission greater flexibility to describe positions, hire and retain specialized staff as it deems necessary.

Voters in 2016 approved a separate Charter amendment giving the commission the ability to exempt its attorneys from the city’s job class specification plan and allow the panel to set those attorneys’ pay.

Commission Chairwoman Victoria Marks, Vice Chairman David Monk and Executive Director Jan Yamane all testified Wednesday in support of both amendments.

Also on Wednesday, the Council approved Resolution 19-329, which would create a city Youth Commission. Comprised of 15 appointees ages 14 and 24, the commission would advise the mayor and the Council on policies, needs, assessments, priorities, programs and budgets associated with Oahu’s children and youth.

Waters, who introduced the resolution, said Council members have seen the island’s youth mobilize and testify on legislation dealing with the environment, affordable housing and public transportation. “It is now our turn to advocate for them by acknowledging that their opinions make a difference,” he said, in a release.

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