The Kaua‘i County Council yesterday took action to cancel Kaua‘i Police Chief K.C. Lum’s contract on the strength of a Kaua‘i Ethics Board investigation showing the selection process for a new police chief had been tainted by former Kaua‘i Police Commissioner Michael Ching.
The action taken during a council meeting at the historic County Building came after government watchdog Glenn Mickens painted the Ethics Board recommendations and the investigation, including the work of a retired judge, as being part of a conspiracy to oust Lum.
The charge left Kaua‘i Council Chairman Kaipo Asing, council Vice-Chairman James Tokioka and other council members flabbergasted and dumbfounded.
“I have to challenge you on your assumption of conspiracy,” Asing said. “You’re almost attacking someone that has a tremendous reputation in the judicial system, a retired judge that has many, many years (of experience in collecting facts and making court rulings).”
Asing said the work done by E. John McConnell, a former judge who served as a hearing officer in the investigation, was above question and that the judge performed his duties honestly and objectively.
In his defense Mickens said, while he felt Mayor Bryan Baptiste, the Ethics Board, the council and the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers have conspired to give Lum the boot, the judge was not part of the conspiracy. Council members countered that Mickens’ testimony strongly suggested the judge was also part of the “conspiracy.” Yesterday’s action triggered the official process by the council to remove Lum.
Lum, who became chief in 2004, has come under fire for not properly leading the Kaua‘i Police Department, for not correcting morale problems among his 140-plus uniformed officers, and for significantly going over budget on overtime pay.
Baptiste and councilmembers Mel Rapozo, a retired Kaua‘i police officer, and Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, a former Kaua‘i County prosecutor, have publicly called for Lum to step down.
Lum said he is doing the job, and that the declining number of drug and crime cases on Kaua‘i is one example. He also said building morale in the department is a constant process, as it is for any organization or business. Lum claimed department funds are being used more efficiently and department goals have been set for the future.
By its actions yesterday, the council said that effort is too little and comes a little too late.
The Kaua‘i Police Commission has the sole authority of dismissing a police chief, but the council, through its actions yesterday, authorized other county officials or boards to take action to end Lum’s employment with the county.
The council approved two motions yesterday.
One motion allows for the cancellation of the contract in accordance with Kaua‘i County Code Section 3-1.11 a. and b. and the imposition of $2,000 in fines on Michael Ching.
Ching resigned from the commission last month after the ethics board recommended punitive actions against him for manipulating the process in the selection of the new police chief, giving preference to Lum.
The second motion calls on county Finance Director Michael Tresler to immediately cancel Lum’s employment contract with the county, after consulting with Baptiste, and calls on the county attorney’s office to assess $2,000 in fines against Ching and to collect the money from him.
The second motion also transmits the council’s actions yesterday to the Kaua‘i Police Commission.
Contacted yesterday, Lum merely acknowledged the council’s action.
“The Kaua‘i County Council took action on the recommendation of the ethics commission to accept the cancellation of my employment contract. I have yet to receive any written confirmation from the director of finance on the council’s actions,” Lum said. “I believe this administrative action by the County Council directing the finance director through the mayor is a breach of contract and a denial of my due process rights. I also believe that this issue can be resolved fairly only in a civil court.”
Per his interpretation of the county code, Lum has said county officials cannot terminate a personal contract, such as the one he has with the county.
Mickens said as well that Kaua‘i County Code Section 3-1.11 c. can’t be used to cancel a personal contract.
Rapozo said the entire section, within which is the condition Mickens cites, has “nothing to do” with the cancellation of a contract and has more to do with county contracts and contract bids.
Lum also has said he will continue to work even if his contract has been canceled.
The council paid out $150,000 to conduct the ethics hearing and to hire a judge with no ties to Kaua‘i to conduct the investigation, Asing and Rapozo said.
Mickens wondered why the investigation centered on Ching, when Stanton Pa and Victor Punua supported Lum’s selection as police chief when they served as police commissioner
“Pressure was put on Mike Ching to step down, and I want to be on the record as saying that I have a great deal of respect for the six years of dedicated service that Mr. Ching gave this county,” Mickens said.
Mickens contended officials are hoping to drum up the required three votes on the police commission to remove Lum. Attending the meeting yesterday were police commissioners Carol Ann Furtado, Thomas Iannucci and Russell Grady, but none spoke. The last remaining commissioner Leon Gonsalves did not attend the meeting.
Council members based their actions on two significant findings by the hearing officer, retired judge McConnell:
- In requesting favorable endorsement by SHOPO, Ching used his position to give Lum an unfair advantage over others who wanted to become the next KPD chief.
Through his actions Ching, the Ethics Board found, violated a section of the Kaua‘i County Code of Ethics under the Kaua‘i County Charter.
- In nominating and advocating for and voting for Lum as the interim chief, Ching used his official position for the benefit of Lum, and thereby violated another county code.
- Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and lchang@ kauaipubco.com