Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell said Wednesday said he doubts a final agreement has been reached yet between the Police Commission and Police Chief Louis Kealoha over a possible payout to the chief in exchange for his retirement.

Kealoha has indicated he will retire in the face of an ongoing federal corruption investigation in which he is one of the targets. The Police Commission has been meeting behind closed doors to hammer out the details of his departure, including a possible payout in addition to his regular retirement benefits.

Speaking at a press conference mainly focused on park improvements, the mayor didn’t say whether he supported the concept of paying the police chief to leave.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell presser Magic Island smiling1. 1 nov 2016
Mayor Kirk Caldwell said he’d like to see a deal regarding the departure of Police Chief Louis Kealoha done “as expeditiously as possible.” Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Caldwell called it a “separation agreement,” a process similar to what Chuck Totto and the Honolulu Ethics Commission worked out when Totto stepped down as executive director, and the separation agreement reached with Dan Grabauskas when the embattled executive director of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation resigned.

“My gut tells me there is not a deal with the police chief yet,” Caldwell said. “The Police Commission is discussing it. I think those terms are fluid.”

The mayor said when an agreement is approved, the financial details should be shared with the pubic, something that commissioners have vowed would happen.

Caldwell said he wouldn’t be concerned if the Police Commission hasn’t finalized any agreement by its next meeting Jan. 18.

“I would hope they do it as expeditiously as possible,” he said. “But if it takes more time, that’s acceptable to me and I think it would be acceptable to the public.”

City Council member Ernie Martin said Wednesday he was surprised the mayor was talking so freely to reporters about a separation agreement with the police chief.

Martin and other council members have been critical of the Police Commission for not telling them more about financial discussions with Kealoha.

During a Tuesday meeting with Police Commission Chairman Max Sword, Council member Kymberly Pine said she was leery of giving Kealoha money, and that it seemed unfair to taxpayers.

Instead, Pine said she would like the Police Commission to keep Kealoha on paid leave while the federal investigation plays out. The chief, who has 33 years of service, could earn nearly $150,000 a year from his pension in addition to other retirement benefits.

Pine had said she doesn’t think it would be fair to add a lump sum payment on top of that, especially if Kealoha could face criminal charges related to public corruption.

Martin said, “The fact that there is a buyout agreement being discussed should have been revealed to the council and the public from the get-go, rather than initially misleading the public into thinking the commission is simply discussing Kealoha’s retirement.

Caldwell says since it is an employee separation agreement rather than a legal settlement, it is a personnel matter and not a process to which the council normally would be privy.

Martin called that “semantics.”

“If there’s buyout with the chief under discussion that’s should be shared with council and the public to the degree that the details can be shared,” Martin said. “It is a matter of public importance. This secrecy is making a lot of people angry. The lack of transparency is frustrating.”

Caldwell says it is up to the Police Commission to decide if it will meet with the City Council to discuss the terms it has reached with Kealoha before the commission votes on the deal.

“It will be good to get this behind us to move on to select a new police chief,” Caldwell said.

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