In Our Voices for Thursday — February 23, 2006

The Police Commission met last week to determine a process to be followed if the body acts toward firing Police Chief K.C. Lum.

More than two hours of the Friday meeting were held behind closed doors in executive session. One of the problems with the scenario is Police Commissioner Leon Gonsalves.

Gonsalves is the defendant in a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by chief Lum.

Commissioner Gonsalves represents one-fifth of the body that will determine the police chief’s fate.

For whatever reasons Gonsalves despises the chief, the conflict of interest seems apparent.

In the October 2004 Gonsalves email that is the basis for the civil rights suit, the commissioner states he was glad he could not be at the swearing-in of Lum as he might “throw up.” It was that same e-mail that contained a racial epithet about the chief.

The author of the e-mail was asked to resign by Mayor Bryan Baptiste over the comments made in it. Gonsalves refused to resign.

Baptiste then asked the County Council to remove him. The council could not reach a majority vote to remove him.

Now Gonsalves, emboldened by surviving the controversy, finds himself one-fifth responsible for the future of the man he openly dislikes.

Under these circumstances, Lum is petitioning the commission for a formal hearing to exclude Gonsalves from any further commission action until the claim of racial discrimination is resolved in federal court. Lum will ask the commission at tomorrow’s meeting to consider his petition for the hearing to exclude Gonsalves from further action involving his future.

If Gonsalves is excused from commission action on Lum, that poses some interesting questions.

The make-up of the commission as it now stands has Gonsalves and Tom Iannucci against Lum, with Mike Ching and Carol Furtado for the chief. Russell Grady is considered the swing vote.

If Gonsalves is not allowed to participate in future actions involving Lum, that means the vote can’t go against Lum lest Furtado or Grady switch their support. There can be a two-two tie, but then who makes the deciding vote?

That question may stalemate the process. The commission, then, is in a pickle. If Gonsalves is allowed to continue, the public perception will be that racially insensitive remarks are OK. The process will be undermined. If he is not allowed to continue, then the county attorney may be left to interpret what a two-two tie vote may mean in the commission.

Sounds messy.

If Gonsalves is allowed to vote on Lum matters and the chief is fired, what will that signal to future KPD chiefs? You must be of a certain race.

And what of the Lum supporters left in the department if Lum is removed? Maybe they all have to be of a certain race, as well. They may face retaliation for supporting Lum.

The commission would be wise to accept Lum’s petition and protect the integrity of the process by not allowing Gonsalves’ participation in Lum’s fate. Dealing with what may come without his vote may mean more in the long run.

Short term decisions like the one the commission faces Friday will have their impact felt much more farther down the road.

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