Board members split on release of report

LIHU’E — Members of the county Board of Ethics are split on the issue of publicly releasing a controversial, five-page report regarding former Police Commissioner Michael Ching.

Board member Bill Clifford said the report should be made public, but other members said in their meeting yesterday that release of a longer report, with names of witnesses blacked out, is sufficient.

That longer report is available on the Board of Ethics Web page on the county Web site, www.kauai.gov.

The five-page report, which has not been released publicly but has been widely distributed privately, concludes that Ching did violate both the County Charter and County Code in some of his actions associated with the selection of K.C. Lum as Kaua’i Police Department chief.

The 25-page hearing-officer’s report contains proposed findings of fact, conclusions of law and recommended order, and has names of witnesses in the investigation blacked out.

Both reports were discussed at Thursday’s Board of Ethics meeting.

The board members discussed hearing officer and retired Maui judge E. John McConnell’s findings they released last month.

McConnell found that Ching violated the county’s ethics standards by using his position as a police commissioner to make K.C. Lum interim KPD chief.

Since the findings were released, Ching’s supporters have contended that the five-page report written by McConnell should have been released to the public. That report was e-mailed to The Garden Island, and it shows names of witnesses that are blacked out in the longer report.

One of Ching’s supporters has used McConnell’s five-page report to claim that Ching should be exonerated.

Others have criticized the Ethics Board members and members of the County Council for withholding information by not releasing the five-page report.

Deputy County Attorney Margaret Sueoka said only findings of violations are released. She based what she said on the Ethics Board’s rules under the County Charter regarding releasing information.

However, Clifford said that McConnell’s five-page report should have been released as well. He said that it is a pretty thin line to differentiate between the findings and the five-page report.

“I think it is all one,” he said.

The five-page report does refer to the longer, findings document.

Sueoka said that McConnell’s five-page report is a separate document, and not part of the findings. She also said it seems that the five-page report looks to be more of an explanation of how McConnell arrived at his decisions.

Sueoka added that certain individuals have misinterpreted the five-page report that they should not have had in the first place.

Clifford said that it was unfortunate that the five-page report was not released publicly.

Sueoka stressed that only the report of the findings was released, and it was redacted (portions of it blacked out) to keep private the names of witnesses, including some KPD officers and other Police Commission members.

Sueoka also said McConnell held a closed hearing about Ching’s ethical violations. She said the board members have an obligation to protect the witnesses as much as possible.

Board member Robert Farias said it is the board’s duty to report what was found by McConnell, and nothing more.

Board member Sandra Helmer said that releasing the redacted findings was done to prevent detrimental information from getting out, and to avoid mudslinging.

In his findings dated Feb. 23, McConnell found that Ching violated the county charter and code twice.

McConnell wrote that Ching used his position to secure an unwarranted advantage and treatment for Lum over the other candidates for chief of police.

McConnell also wrote that Ching nominated, advocated for, and voted for Lum as interim chief.

Both actions violated the county’s charter and code, wrote McConnell.

McConnell recommended that the matter be referred to the County Council for further action.

In turn, the Ethics Board recommended to the County Council that Lum’s contract be canceled. The board also recommended that Ching be impeached, and fined $2,000.

Ching was not impeached because he resigned March 23, the day his motion for reconsideration of McConnell’s proposed findings was denied by McConnell.

Councilmembers took up that recommendation at an earlier meeting, recommending that county Finance Director Mike Tresler cancel Lum’s contract.

At their meeting this week, councilmembers discussed the investigation process and out-come.

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