Thursday, January 4, 2001
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Posted on: Thursday, January 4, 2001

Big Island chief search criticized

By Hugh Clark
Advertiser Big Island Bureau

Previous stories:
Acting Big Island chief gets positive reviews
Hawai'i County police chief finalists named
i — A Hawaii County councilman was among those who slammed the Big Island Police Commission yesterday for the way it has conducted a search for a new police chief.

Council Vice Chairman Curtis Tyler III of North Kona accused commission members of being rude and unprofessional in their dealings with candidates for the job.

Tyler and several other speakers at the second public hearing on the two finalists for the chief’s position urged the commission to restart the selection process from scratch and to accept Mainland applicants, even though state law forbids hiring a chief who has not lived in Hawaii for a year.

Tyler said the state law should be ignored or overturned because it is unconstitutional.

Agreeing with Tyler, coffee farmer Sandra Scarr noted that Kauai County chose a California resident, George Freitas, to be chief, "and the sky didn’t fall."

Others went further and asked the panel to resign en masse and provide the opportunity for a clean start.

Both finalists, acting Chief James Correa, 47, of Hilo, and Honolulu Police Department Maj. Thomas Prasser, 48, attended yesterday’s hearing, but neither addressed the commission.

The four speakers who supported Correa cited his integrity and trouble-free 25-year police career, along with his lifelong involvement in youth sports.

Jim Ferry, a private high school principal who was a policeman for 27 years on Oahu and the Big Island, said Correa was a pleasure to work with.

"There is no surprise he has risen to this level," Ferry said.

Warren Chong, who has known Correa for 30 years, called him "innovative, honest and dependable."

The four speakers who favored Prasser said he would bring a promise of change to a police department that has suffered credibility problems as the result of a series of incidents, including a recent multimillion-dollar court verdict in a promotions rigging scandal.

Karen Wolfe said the Big Island needs "a new vision, a new public trust and to raise the standards."

She said the fact that Correa served as deputy chief under retired chief Wayne Carvalho, a defendant in the promotions rigging scandal, was enough for her to prefer Prasser.

Correa was not involved in the lawsuit.

Commercial airline pilot Suzanne Skeeters, who resides in Kona, said she prefers Prasser over Correa but at the same time believes the search for a chief should have included Mainland applicants.

"I am not satisfied these candidates are the best we can get. Stop where you are and rework the process," she told commissioners.

Jack Brunton, who already has won one round in court against the commission for leaving the public out of the selection process, told the panel he expects to return to court on other issues.

Brunton, a former Idaho policeman who now lives in Kona, said the current "acrimony" over the selection of a police chief could have been avoided.

He said the commission had lost its credibility and should "go back and start over."

A third hearing will be held at 10 a.m. Monday in the Hawaii County Council room in Hilo, with the final hearing at 10 a.m. Jan. 19 in the Royal Kona Resort’s Resolution Room.

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