Who Disciplines the Chief of Police in Kaua`i?

People are always claiming “I hate to tell you ‘I told you so,’ but…”

Yet who are we kidding? — we love to do it.

So today we’ll set up what will most assuredly be a little “see?” moment, sometime in the near future.

The agenda for next Wednesday’s council meeting contains the following item:

C 2012-98 Request (03/13/2012) from the Police Commission for authorization to expend funds up to $10,000.00 to retain special counsel to represent the Police Commission in filing a complaint with the Fifth Circuit Court and asking for a declaratory judgment as to who has the authority to supervise and/or discipline the Chief of Police.

In addition the council has scheduled a closed-door, executive session (ES 535) for

a briefing on the retention of special counsel to represent the Police Commission in filing a declaratory action to determine who has the authority to supervise and/or discipline the Chief of Police.

But let us save you some time and money folks — neither judge on Kaua`i is going to even rule on the matter. Both of them will tell you that essentially this is a political matter that needs a political solution.

Fifth Circuit Judges Randall Valenciano and Kathleen Watanabe have both shown this propensity for “punting” before and it’s doubtful they will change now.

We’ve found it amusing that both “sides”– the administration of Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. vs. Police Chief Darryl Perry and the Kaua`i Police Commission– both adamantly claim the charter gives them the power to discipline the chief.

But, as we’ve said a number of times there is nothing in the charter or Kaua`i County Code — or for that matter state law — regarding who has the authority to discipline or suspend the chief.

Hiring and/or firing him or her does rest with the police commission. But otherwise the law is “silent.”

Watenabe has a history of punting these kinds of things. For example, in her decisions regarding various cases of disturbances of `iwi kupuna — the bones of native Hawaiians — by developers, she adamantly refused to rule, saying that the laws and regulations regarding the individual island burial councils and the State Historical Preservation Department (SHPD) that oversees the process, are unclear and that the legislature needs to clear thing up.

Our description is an oversimplification. But what is clear is that Watanabe did indicate that the solution was a political decision, not a judicial one.

As to Valenciano he was recently asked by Council members Mel Rapozo and Kipukai Kuali`i to clear up the use of the word “shall” in a matter regarding the Kaua`i Salary Commission’s March 15 deadline for submission of their yearly “recommendations.” County Attorney Al Castillo had written an opinion that, in this case, “”shall” was used “administratively” and therefore has to be read as “should.”

But when the two council members went before Valenciano’s court, he also said that it was a political matter and not only didn’t the two have standing but that they should look to changing the law to make things clear rather than asking him to essentially split a baby.

Does anyone think that in this case either of the judges are going to get involved? Both come from a government background and perspective, Watanabe having served as county attorney and in other government jobs and Valenciano having been a long-time council member, even running for mayor one time. Both have a healthy respect for letting the government wheels turn as freely as possible and apparently do not want to get involved in inter-agency squabbles like the one over who should discipline the chief.

The ball here is clearly and fully in the council’s court as we said in the post cited above.

Section 7.05 of the Kaua`i County Charter details the “Powers, Duties and Functions” of the mayor.
There are 13 “Powers, Duties and Functions” The very last one reads:

M. Exercise such other powers and perform such other duties as may be prescribed by this charter or by ordinance. (emphasis added)

This means that the council can actually pass an ordinance regardless of whether the charter defines a specific power of the mayor or not. This is somewhat unusual in that powers not designated in a controlling document cannot normally just be taken in an inferior document (such as the charter and an ordinance respectively)… unless, as it is in this case, it is specifically granted.

The council also has the power to put a charter amendment before the electorate via a resolution.

But either way the problem here is that it exists in the political realm. It is doubly political in that the council must make a political decision as to which entity they want to give that power to — whether they do so via an ordinance or a charter amendment.

Should they give it to the mayor or to the police commission? They will no doubt face criticism for doing either. If they passed an ordinance, first they would have to decide themselves which way to go. If they proposed a charter amendment, they could only propose one or the other for the electorate to vote for — there’s no provision for having a referendum type of charter amendment- so they face the same dilemma.

In either scenario, if the council decides to spend the $10,000, the money is completely wasted.

And we’re pretty confident that if they do approve the expenditure, we’ll wind up with a nice “we told you so” to tack up on the wall with all the others.




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