The Kaua‘i County Council has recommended county agencies levy sanctions against Kaua‘i Police Department Deputy Chief Harold Venneman for violating county charter and code provisions in supporting K.C. Lum as the chief of police.
At its meeting at the historic County Building, the council recommended
• The Kaua‘i Police Commission remove Venneman from his job;
• The Kaua‘i County Attorney’s Office assess a $1,000 fine against him;
• The county attorney recover compensation from Venneman for time he took during his work hours in 2004 to gather signatures in support of Lum’s candidacy.
The council took the action on Wednesday after reviewing a report from a hearing officer who found Venneman had improperly solicited support from 70 percent of the KPD officers in 2004 for Lum over two other police chief candidates.
The findings by John McConnell, a retired Maui judge, were part of a Kaua‘i Board of Ethics investigation into a complaint about Venneman’s efforts to gather signatures in a show of support for Lum.
McDonnell noted the violations by Venneman but recommended no action against him, leaving that decision to the ethics board.
It is not known whether the ethics board made recommendations that led to actions by the council Wednesday.
But McConnell did say the county attorney could impose fines and the County Council could pass “remedial legislative measures.”
Venneman is the third Kaua‘i official to come under investigation by the ethics board into complaints the selection process was manipulated in a way to ensure Lum became police chief in October of 2004.
The Ethics Board recently found:
•Venneman’s conduct violated a provision in the county charter that prevents him from using his position as a police officer to gain a special benefit for himself or others;
• Venneman also violated a county code that forbids the use of an employee’s position to “secure or grant unwarranted privileges, exceptions, advantages, contracts or treatment for himself or others.”
McConnell recently found Police Commission member Michael Ching violated provisions of the county charter and code by improperly using his position to try to influence the police chief’s selection process. Ching resigned from his position this year.
Police Commission Chairwoman Carol Furtado also has come under investigation by the ethics board on similar charges, but has denied them.
A telephone call to Venneman yesterday went unanswered.
McConnell conducted his hearing for Venneman on Dec. 13, 2005 and determined Venneman had circulated letters of support to KPD officers at three police stations in Lihu‘e, Hanalei and Waimea, as well as contacting personnel at the dispatch office.
Venneman solicited support from the officers from 5 p.m. to 3 a.m. from Sept. 10, 2004 to Sept. 20, 2004. Venneman was a patrolman at the time.
In testimony before the ethics board, a KPD employee reported Venneman had circulated a “petition” in support of Lum and told Venneman that his actions were improper and gave Lum the upper hand in his bid to become the next police chief.
When questioned by McConnell during the Dec. 13, 2005 hearing, Venneman testified he believed that KPD employee was lying.
McConnell noted, however, Venneman could not offer any plausible reason to explain what reason that person would have in testifying falsely under oath to the ethics board.
McConnell noted the KPD employee did not file the complaint that sparked the ethics board investigation.
In defending Venneman’s actions, Lihu‘e attorney John Murphy said his client’s activities did not interfere with the running of the department.
“There was no evidence presented by Kaua‘i County that Deputy Chief Venneman’s actions disrupted and thwarted the efficiency of KPD,” Murphy states in a “proposed finding of fact and conclusions” sent to McConnell and to the County Council.
Neither did Venneman “forfeit the First Amendment protection against governmental abridgment of freedom of speech, by circulating the letter of support, both privately and publicly,” Murphy states.
The subject of the letter, support for Lum as the next chief of police, was “a matter of public concern,” Murphy said.
In documents unveiled at the council meeting, Venneman compared what he did to what people do when they sell “Pop Warner tickets” or “Girl Scout cookies.”
Many KPD officers participate in fundraisers and those activities take them away from their specific law enforcement duties, he said. But they do so for the good of community, Venneman indicated.
“I mean we do that in the department and we do it throughout the county. So, no I didn’t feel I was doing something inappropriate,” Venneman writes in documents.
During an Oct. 26, 2004 ethics board hearing, Venneman said that “at least 20 to 30 percent of his time” spent gathering signatures for his letter of support for Lum was while he was on duty.
The rest of the solicitation was done on his personal time, Venneman said.
“I would say maybe 20 to 30 percent might have been on duty and the rest was off duty,” Venneman states in documents. “There were times that I didn’t come home until the next morning or the next day (to get in touch with people on his own time).”
Venneman also contends the ethics board doesn’t have the jurisdiction to investigate and to render findings in regards to his actions.
Corlis Chang and Edmund K. Saffery, special counsel for the ethics board, disagree, saying the ethics board has “broad jurisdiction” to enforce the Kaua‘i County ethics code.
Venneman’s action drew support from government watchdog and Wailua resident Glenn Mickens.
In testimony sent to the council, Mickens writes: “Obviously the way this whole scenario is playing out I would put more credence in the case that Deputy Venneman’s lawyer outlined, than in what Judge McConnell and the ethics board have concluded.”
Mickens said the county has mounted a conspiracy to get rid of Lum, Furtado and Ching, and “the last part of the plot to get rid of Lum” is to “go after one of the finest officers on Kaua‘i — Deputy Chief Venneman.”
The council has adamantly denied the charge, saying a process has been followed to remove Lum because he has not properly managed KPD and has failed to raise the department’s morale.
Lum has presented to the council and the police commission his goals for the department, and has emphasized morale is an ongoing issue for any organization.
• Lester Chang, staff writer, can be re ached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) and lchang@ kauaipubco.com.