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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Kaua'i's chiefly dilemma

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Kaua'i Bureau

LIHU'E, Kaua'i The Kaua'i County administration is studying how to act on the County Council's call for sanctions against former Police Commissioner Michael Ching and the invalidation of Police Chief K.C. Lum's contract.

The council last week adopted in full the county Board of Ethics investigation. It found that Ching violated county ethics provisions by lobbying the police union for Lum's hire, and in working to have Lum hired as an acting chief while Lum was a candidate for the permanent job a decision it said gave Lum an advantage other candidates did not have. Neither Ching nor Lum, who is on an extended vacation, was at the council meeting.

This latest council move plays against a complex backdrop of turmoil in the Kaua'i Police Department, an effort of the Police Commission to maneuver through the process of firing an unpopular chief, and jockeying by elected officials in an election year.

Even if Lum's contract is invalidated, it is not clear that he would have to resign.

Ching has voluntarily resigned from the Police Commission. County Councilman Daryl Kaneshiro, who faced a Board of Ethics conflict-of-interest probe when he served as a county director of economic development during the 1980s, said Ching's resignation was the right thing to do.

The ethics board recommended and the council approved that the county assess $2,000 in fines against Ching, and cancel Lum's employment contract.

The council last week congratulated the Ethics Commission, saying it did a good, thorough job, and adopted its position entirely without a single amendment.

"They did a heck of a job, and it wasn't an easy job. Every single one of us congratulated them," said Councilman Jimmy Tokioka.

But it's not entirely clear how the county administration goes about enacting the recommendations, or what effect they'll have.

For example, can the county try to collect the fines directly, or must it ask a court to do so? And what's the effect of canceling the chief's contract, since many previous chiefs have held office without such contracts, and most other department heads don't have them? Councilman Jay Furfaro said it's a fair question.

"Canceling his contract does not necessarily cancel his employment," Furfaro said.

Deputy County Attorney Galen Nakamura said the county can't make any firm determinations of how to proceed until it formally receives the council action, which had not happened by the close of work yesterday.

The county Police Commission is the only agency under the County Charter with the power to hire and fire a police chief. The commission's four remaining members are trying to determine how many of them are eligible to vote on removing the chief. Lum has brought conflict-of-interest charges against one of them, Commissioner Leon Gonsalves Jr. If Gonsalves is removed from the process, the three remaining members would need to vote unanimously to remove Lum, and one of them Carol Furtado has been a strong backer of Lum.

Ching, one of the key figures in hiring Lum, is now out of the picture as the issues come to a head.

"He (Ching) obviously tried to manipulate the process," said Councilman Tokioka.

Councilwoman Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, who has been a critic of the chief, said it was clear that before being appointed acting chief, Lum lacked qualifications to serve in a permanent capacity.

"You need three years of administrative experience to be chief. He did not have that, and it shows," Iseri-Carvalho said.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.