The once-every-ten year convening of the County’s Redistricting Commission tends to cloud the significance and importance of its work. No one should underestimate the impact this commission’s decisions have on County politics. In some cases, the drawing of district boundaries causes little alteration, but as the recent commission’s efforts have demonstrated, profound changes can occur by ‘moving’ district boundaries only a few streets in one direction or the other. In a very fundamental sense, the determinations reached by the commission form the basis for the political structure the County will endure for a ten year period. If these determinations are questionable, public participation is likely to suffer, and the perception of a less than transparent County government affects all individuals involved.
The 2011 version of the Redistricting Commission provides a useful model to examine. In general, the commission performed outstanding work in fielding any number of potential boundary changes and in facing a variety of community generated complaints and suggestions. No one can argue that the commission failed to consider public comments. Overall public perception of the commission’s efforts I believe was positive, even in the face of criticism regarding the ‘last minute’ boundary change affecting the Hilo area. But it was just this incident that causes concern, particularly if this situation would have directly impacted the political opportunities of the commissioners personally.
Make no mistake; public perception of this process is extremely important. It is not to be treated lightly. While it would probably be impossible to eliminate all circumstances that would generate misperceptions regarding the validity and transparency of the redistricting process, anything that can be done to tackle obvious pitfalls should be wholeheartedly embraced. That forms the basis for my sponsoring Bill 192 which calls for a proposed Charter Amendment to be placed on the ballot in November of this year, prohibiting the members of the Redistricting Commission from running for County Council positions for one term (two years) after the redistricting plan has been adopted. This change, obviously, does not apply to the members of the recent redistricting effort but would affect future commissions.
This is not an original concept. Most municipalities (city and county) on the mainland have some restrictions for individuals who participate in redistricting programs. The State of Hawai’i currently mandates that members of its Reapportionment Commission (which draws the State Senate and State Legislature boundaries) can’t run for those offices for four years after they’ve served. I feel this might be too much of a restriction to impose on otherwise qualified individuals. The two year exclusion seems to me to be a better limit.
The restoration and maintenance of credibility in our County government are tasks for all elected officials and community leaders. Where we can take action without causing undue turmoil, we should. Bill 192 addresses only a small aspect of this effort, which is not currently addressed in any manner in our Charter. If approved for placement on the ballot in November, this measure affords the voters a chance to eliminate a perception that would impact adversely on the credibility of our County government.