Maui Charter Project
a project of North Beach West Maui Benefit Fund
During the nineteenth century, the Hawaiian Kingdom's Minister Robert Wylie felt that those authoring the structure of government centralized too much power in the hands of the King and Privy Council. He was concerned that the form of government alienated Hawaiians from their government and that direct participation through devolution of government responsibilities to more localized forms of governance was the appropriate remedy for this alienation. It also would allow local communities to check the consolidation of power in the hands of foreigners. Through the 1850s and 1860s, Minister Wylie was ignored and successive constitutions further concentrated power in the King.
The question of local governance was not again addressed until after the overthrow of the government of Queen Lili'uokalani and the beginning of the American occupation of Hawai'i. The territorial legislature did provide for local governments to take over a number of issues deemed to be better handled locally. However, this was not a devolution of powers but a delegation of powers that the territorial government itself controlled. This structure kept the counties on a short leash.
The idea of meaningful local government returned around statehood and the shift from the Rpublican controlled legislature to the Democratic controlled legislature in the 1950s. In the 1960s, the counties were entitled to form charter commissions which, upon adoption by the voters, would be the organic document establishing local governance in a particular county. The County of Maui began this process in 1963. It resulted in a proposed charter in 1964. This charter was rejected by the voters in the County. Another commission was commission in 1966 with a similar membership and proposed another charter in 1967. This charter was adopted by the voters.
Maui's political history was in tremendous turmoil at that point. Chairman Eddie Tam, of the state created Board of Supervisors, passed away after being reelected. The Board refused to seat Manuel Molina as his replacement. The legislature passed a law that required a special election to fill the vacancy. It was struck down by the Maui circuit court but the law was upheld by the Hawai'i Supreme Court. House Speaker Elmer Cravalho returned to Maui to run and eventually became Maui's first mayor.
The documents in this project present snap shots of Maui political life in the years that the charter commission met and the county councils proposed changes to Maui's charter. Where a provision of the charter is ambiguous and susceptible to more than one meaning, these documents provide guidance to government officials and courts in determining the intent of a particular provision.
Many ideas have circulated through every charter commission since 1963. Some ideas are perhaps not appropriate for Maui while others may have simply been untimely.
The 1978 State Constitution Convention was successful in making fundamental changes to the state constitution because various interest groups had years of planning and discussing leading up to the convention throughout the community.
The North Beach West Maui Benefit Fund started this project as the preliminary phase in establishing a West Maui working group that will consider various proposals and ideas to better county government for West Maui residents. It is also hoped that providing this historical information to a wider audience, these types of conversations will multiply and provide a rich review prior the mandatory charter review process in 2011.
For further readings in local governance in Hawai'i, consider reading Professor Donald Johnson's The City and County of Honolulu, Attorney Tony Ramil's Kalai Aina: County of Maui, or Cooper and Daws Land and Power in Hawai'i.
The North Beach West Maui Benefit Fund would like to thank the principal investigator and attorney, Lance D. Collins, Ph.D , his research assistant Laurie Gima, the County Clerk and his staff and Maui's Corporation Counsel and his staff.
North Beach West Maui Benefit Fund, Inc.