County can’t void contract, says Lum

Kaua’i Police Chief K.C. Lum has taken his fight to keep his job to Kaua’i County Council Chairman Kaipo Asing.

In a March 25 letter to Asing, Lum, who has rebutted criticism that he has not led the Kaua’i Police Department in an effective manner, contended the Kaua’i County Ethics Board improperly interpreted a section of the Kaua’i County Code in suggesting termination of his county contract.

The code relates to vendor contracts, not a county employment contract he holds, Lum said.

Lum further asserted County Finance Director Michael Tresler, in accordance with a code section cited by the Ethics Board, can only void a vendor contract.

Lum brought attention to these two issues after the Ethics Board sent four recommendations to the council for action after releasing its findings of an investigation last week.

The board made its proposal after a board-approved investigation into allegations Ching improperly influenced the selection process for the police chief in Lum’s favor, an accusation Ching has denied.

The Ethics Board also recommended Ching be impeached, but that proposal is moot. Ching resigned, effective March 23.

Related to Lum’s concerns, Ethics Board Chairman Michael Fernandes said the board made its recommendations after a thorough investigation.

“According to the commission (or board’s) rules and policies, the Kaua’i County Charter and chapter 3 (of the Kaua’i County Code related to internal regulations), our interpretations and findings were based on that,” Fernandes said.

Lum’s efforts to remain as chief have caused criticisms of his leadership to resurface. Those criticisms include dissension among the officers since he took office in October 2004 and not properly managing the department’s overtime pay.

Lum said he is working on ways to improve morale, has a management plan in place and has gotten the department’s finances on a more sound footing.

Lum’s letter to Asing marks his efforts to rebuff additional efforts to oust him from his job, and to legally solidify his hold on his job.

When the council will meet to discuss the letter is unknown.

The county must give public notice for so many days before the council can adjourn to discuss it, in accordance with the state Sunshine Law.

In the letter, Lum said he has “grave” concerns about the Ethics Board’s actions.

While Kaua’i County Code Section 3-1.11 a allows the finance director to void contracts in the event of violations, and Section 3-1.11 b discusses penalties, Sec. 3-1.8 stipulates the section does not apply to a personal contract.

“Based on the actual wording of the code, the recommendation by the Ethics Board is not valid,” Lum said.

Lum said he will challenge this point in court if it is implemented by county officials.

Lum also takes issue with the board’s recommendation to have Tresler void the county’s contract with him.

Lum said that can’t happen, based on his reading of a county section code.

“I am saying the finance director can only void contracts for goods and services , but not employment contracts with the county,” Lum said.

The finance director, under Section 3-1.9 g, can only ask for the imposition of fines, suspension or removal of an outside vendor related to a contract.

Lum said he is staying put in his job even if he has no contract.

“My appointment as chief of police is valid, despite the complication of one vote (that belonging to Ching, who was the subject of the Ethics Board investigation),” Lum wrote in his letter to Asing.

“If you choose to invalidate my contract as recommended and not give my concerns some serious considerations, my employment as chief of police, in my opinion, will still be valid,” he wrote. “I simply will be chief of police working without an employment contract which I will challenge in court.”

Lum also said the hearing officer in the investigation “did not find any violations of the charter or the code by commissioner Ching individually in the selection process of the chief.”

Without making any concrete connection to the county charter or code, the hearing officer noted that Ching inappropriately influenced the selection of Lum as the new chief of police.

Fernandes said Lum can say want he wants, and that the board members “respect his opinion, whatever he is quoting. I have no problem with that.”

At the same time, the board developed its recommendation after a thorough review of the “facts,” Fernandes said.

Lum’s letter was sparked by the Ethics Board’s submission of its recommendations to the council on March 23.

Among its key findings, the Ethics Board recommends:

  • The director of finance void Lum’s contract.

The hearing officer further found Ching solicited support for Lum from two Kaua’i police officers, both members of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers.

The officers regularly ate breakfast at a snack shop at the Ching Young Village at the time.

  • The impeachment of Ching;
  • A fine of up to $1,000 for each violation, in accordance with the Kaua’i County Code.

The recommendations came along with a report submitted by E. John McConnell, a hearing officer in the investigation.

McConnell noted the commission paved the way for Lum to become the next chief.

He noted that when George Freitas retired in 2003, the Kaua’i Police Commission appointed William Ihu, a veteran KPD officer who previously held the rank of lieutenant, as acting or interim chief.

At the time Ihu became acting or interim chief, he told the police commission he would stay in his new position until a permanent chief was found.

In late March 2004, the commission held a special meeting at which Ihu was told his tenure would not be extended past April 30 of that year, offering no explanation, according to McConnell.

McConnell said, in line with “protocol and/or policy” of the KPD, and in the absence of a chief, the deputy chief became the acting or interim chief until a new chief was found.

When Ihu retired at the time, the next person to have succeeded him as acting or interim chief would have been Clayton Arinaga, then commander of the KPD Patrol Bureau Services, McConnell said.

McConnell also noted that the Kaua’i Police Commission, meeting in an executive session, had considered other potential police chief candidates, including: KPD Lt. Paul Kanoho; Kenny Robinson, a retired KPD deputy police chief; Lt. Gordon Isoda, now an assistant chief; and Lum.

Lum was voted in as the interim chief.

The investigation of Ching’s role started after a resident filed a complaint with the Ethics Board, McConnell said.

Ching was not available for comment yesterday, but he has said Lum was selected through a fair process.

Lum’s selection as the police chief has drawn support from two of the island’s most ardent critics of the agencies of Kaua’i County — Ray Chuan, a North Shore resident, and Glenn Mickens, a resident of Wailua.

Both say Lum has done an “outstanding” job running KPD.

A growing number of officers feel the same way, but SHOPO board officers on Kaua’i and state leaders with SHOPO insist Lum is the wrong man for the job and want him removed.

  • Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and lchang@ kauaipubco.com
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