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A measure that aimed to give the mayor the power to hire and fire Honolulu’s police chief was deferred indefinitely Tuesday by a City Council committee.
Councilman Ikaika Anderson of Windward Oahu introduced Resolution 17-308 in what he called an effort to increase transparency between police leadership and the council. On Tuesday Anderson asked the Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee to defer the measure to give commissioners and Police Chief Susan Ballard more time to discuss other options with the council.
Had the committee approved the resolution, it would have required final approval from the full City Council in June, then Mayor Kirk Caldwell’s signature before going on the Nov. 6 general election ballot.
Another measure introduced by Anderson to create a similar process for the Honolulu Fire Commission also died Tuesday.
“I still feel that that idea has merit,” Anderson told Civil Beat, adding that Police Commission Chair Loretta Sheehan has offered alternative ideas.
“Let’s hear what those alternatives are and at that point after hearing this discussion would I introduce this again? I’m not committed to introducing it, I’m not committed to not introducing it,” Anderson said.
The current Police Commission opposed Resolution 17-308. Sheehan did not attend the meeting Tuesday but in written testimony she described Anderson’s proposal as “unnecessary, unjustified, disruptive to the structure of the Police Commission.”
She previously argued the measure would gut the commission and make the police chief susceptible to doing the mayor’s bidding.
Councilman Ron Menor, the committee chair, shared similar concerns about politicizing the police chief selection process. He did say, however, that it’s hard for the public to hold the Police Commission accountable for its actions.
In January 2017, a $250,000 payout for former Police Chief Louis Kealoha was crafted behind closed doors. The commission voted 5-1 to approve the payout.
Then-Commission Chair Max Sword declined a request from the City Council for a briefing on the chief’s retirement package. City officials later refused to explain where the tax dollars offered to Kealoha came from.
Sword’s refusal to communicate prompted Anderson to introduce both resolutions last December. It marked just one juncture in a years-long corruption scandal playing out at the Honolulu Police Department.
A grand jury in October indicted Kealoha and his city prosecutor wife Katherine as part of an FBI investigation into alleged criminal conspiracy, fraud and obstruction of justice. Four other HPD officers were also indicted and a fifth officer is awaiting sentencing after pleading guilty. The commission had previously given Kealoha excellent job approval ratings.
Anderson’s resolution also proposed to change how police commissioners are selected. The seven-member board is appointed by the mayor and confirmed by the council but Anderson proposed allowing the City Council to appoint four of the commission’s seven members and the mayor the other three.
“The resolution appears to suggest that councilmembers may bypass the Chair of the Police Commission to have questions answered by their own appointees,” said Sheehan, who replaced Sword in February. She suggested instead having a commissioner regularly attend council meetings to update elected officials on police matters.
Lynne Matusow, the only member of the public who submitted testimony on the measure, opposed it.
“Kealoha is gone,” she wrote. “There is a new commission of dedicated volunteers and a new, highly respected police chief, let them do their job. Don’t meddle.”
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