Receiving community testimony in new hybrid model
By Tamara Paltin
My purpose in pursuing a role in government has always been to give a voice to local people and to collaborate toward solutions for a better quality of life for residents.
I’m grateful my colleagues on the Maui County Council share this vision. Together, we’ve worked to create more ways for members of the public to share their views and influence decisions in local government.
For instance, we now have six district offices throughout the county. For many terms, Hana, Lanai and Molokai have had district offices and we’ve recently added offices in Lahaina for West Maui residents, in Kihei for South Maui residents and in Pāʻia for Makawao-Haʻikū-Pāʻia residents.
At each district office, residents can drop in to get copies of legislative documents, provide live testimony via video conference, drop off written testimony or schedule a meeting with the council member for the residency area. Residents are no longer required to drive to the County Building in Wailuku for these services, saving time and money—and helping to limit greenhouse-gas emissions.
For the district offices’ phone numbers, addresses and hours, please go to http://mauicounty.us/district-offices/ or call the Office of Council Services at (808) 270-7838.
We’ve also made the process for submitting written testimony to the council’s committees easier and more transparent.
The eComment system allows for testimony to be submitted on any agenda item at any time. And the testimony goes live online as soon as soon as it’s submitted, providing clarity and transparency for both the public and council members.
More information on the system is available here: http://mauicounty.us/ecomment/. For council meetings, testimony can be emailed: firstname.lastname@example.org.
In-person testimony can now be provided in the Council Chamber, on the 8th Floor of the County Building, for all council and committee meetings. Subject to staffing availability, the district offices are also open as courtesy sites for in-person testimony.
As the COVID-19 lockdown required online meetings, we started accepting live testimony via video conference and phone two years ago. We did that out of necessity, but members of the public quickly became accustomed to the system, and the legislature last year amended the Sunshine Law to permanently allow online meetings.
So, you can continue to testify at meetings from wherever you are, regardless of what you’re doing. We’ve received testimony from the grocery store, the beach, countless living rooms and even a Las Vegas hotel room—and we’re glad that this is one positive aspect of the new normal.
The council received a civic-engagement award in 2021 from the National Association of Counties for its online meetings. But the council members all recognize that the system has only been successful because of residents’ adaptability, resourcefulness and, most of all, undaunted commitment to making Maui County a better place.
To further promote involvement in the county’s decision-making process, the council has produced a series of five videos on how to engage the council. The videos provide the basics on county government, outline the council’s law-making procedures, and provide tips on how to read meeting agendas and how to provide effective written and oral testimony.
The fifth video is perhaps the most important because it provides a call to action for all residents to take advantage of the opportunities to get involved in the decisions that affect you and your family, our shared natural environment—and our shared social, cultural and economic future.
I’ve taken the liberty of sharing a few of the video’s suggestions:
- Get in touch with individual council members and share your ideas on improving the county’s services and activities. Our email addresses and office phone numbers are available at mauicounty.us. Both complaints and kudos are welcome. Special expertise isn’t required, just a passion for community betterment. All nine council members represent all county residents.
- Attend informational sessions, town halls and other events presented by council members; subscribe to their newsletters; follow the council on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
- Give testimony to not just to the council and its committees, but also the county’s numerous boards and commissions. Even better, apply to be a member of a board or commission.
And who knows, the testimony you provide from your living room just might change the course of Maui County.
* Tamara Paltin is chair of the Planning and Sustainable Land Use Committee. She holds the County Council seat for the West Maui residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.