AND WE GET ON OUR KNEES AND PRAY...: It's no secret among Kaua`i county-watchers. Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr.'s attempt at power grabbing is nothing new- this time by claiming authority in disciplining Kaua`i Police Department (KPD) Chief Darryl Perry.
For a few years now Carvalho has been running a different but related proposal up the flagpole, one which would change the Kaua`i County Charter to take the power of appointment of department heads away from the boards and commissions that currently have it and give it to the mayor.
To hizzonah's chagrin though, there wasn't much saluting going on.
Currently the Kaua`i charter gives the power to appoint and remove their respective department heads to the Fire, Civil Service, Planning, Liquor Control and Police Commissions. In the case of the police chiefs of the various counties, it is a set-up that has been mandated by state law, making any charter change to give mayors that power effective only after legislative action.
The common wisdom behind this type of police department set-up (one that is used in most US jurisdictions) is that the local "para-military" constabulary should be under civilian control so as to "take the politics out of the police department."
Carvalho took his proposal to the police commission for their support, saying that, of course, there would first need to be a change in state law- something for which he said he was lobbying.
But the commission rebuffed his request. Of course being political appointees they weren't about to piss off their "boss" so, although they diplomatically said they "trusted" Carvalho himself to not interject politics into department business (perish the thought) were he to have the power to do so, they feared his successors might not be inclined to be as altruistic.
That's been percolating around the back of our mind while watching the current political circus, assuming that any charter change of this nature would have to wait for a change in Hawai`i Revised Statues (HRS).
You'd think we'd have learned by now. To paraphrase another meshugana, fool us 1,274 times... you can still get fooled again... and again... and again.
HRS 52D regulates county "Police Departments." Prior to 2010, HRS Section 52D-2 read "Chief of police. The police commission shall appoint a chief of police. "
However, unbeknownst to many, the 2010 legislature passed SB 2177 SD1, deleting those two sentences and substituting the following words "A chief of police shall be appointed and may be removed as prescribed by the charter of each county."
That means that, although the current charter remains legally binding, were the charter commission or the county council to place a different "prescription" before the electorate and should it pass, it would no longer be illegal to have any structure of control they desire- including of course moving the authority to hire and fire the chief of police from the police commission to the mayor.
Watch out for this one.
The Charter Review Commission (CRC) has been meeting to consider the current Perry vs Carvalho brouhaha as recently as this past Monday when they held a closed door executive session on the matter where presumably they considered a charter change to address the current "constitutional crisis."
As we described a week ago Thursday the current "crisis" is based on the fact that the charter is essentially silent on the disciplining of the police chief allowing both the mayor and the police commission to claim control- even though neither is given that clear authority in the charter.
The CRC used to meet every 10 years but now sits continually until 2016 after a charter change in 2006. Prior to the current election cycle, the CRC has been extremely independent, doing their work without checking with anyone regarding their proposed amendments. However the current CRC has been anything but independent with Chair and noted county lap-dog Sherman Shiraishi constantly coming before the council looking for scratches behind the ear and tummy rubs of approval on every move the commission is considering.
The mayor has had a more direct pipeline, not just as an ex-officio member of the CRC but through the Director of Boards and Commissions who was, until recently, Carvalho's spying eyes, ears and mouthpiece, John Isobe.
All Carvalho has to do is simply tell Shiraishi what he wants on the ballot- something he has not been shy about doing, sometimes even in writing. And in the Shiraishi family tradition, Sherm, like Clint before him, makes no bones about indicating his and the commission's desire to be as accommodating of elected officials as possible. After all it isn't like the Shiraishis haven't been on the receiving end of such largess for generations.
Oh, and even though the CRC is set up to be an independent, alternative to having the council propose charter amendments (they may also be proposed via citizen petition) the CRC has become simply an arms-length method of politically insulating the council from having to propose politically sensitive amendments in an election year.
That could well be the scenario that plays out this year. The council actually could take the reins over who can discipline the chief of police via an ordinance if they wanted to, leaving the appointment scheme the way it is now.
Yeah- right... right after they raise taxes and their salaries. Anyone got a 10 foot pole? Do we hear 20?
With the way the local press is led around by county-installed brass rings through their collective noses we wouldn't put it past the administration to try to get away with proposing an amendment that purports to "clear up" the confusion over who is in charge of disciplining the chief but actually transfers control over hiring and firing.
It wouldn't be the first time that the electorate was hornschwoggled via a "trick question" on the ballot- one that doesn't really reflect what the content of the amendment is. Remember that "conform to the sunshine law" bamboozle that actually did anything but "turn off the dark?"
It's not beyond the realm of possibility that in "clarifying" who has control of discipline of the chief the administration would also try to slip in a provision to give the mayor a little more power.
And if voters did somehow figure it out, the few that actually pay attention can be told that it was an innocent provision to avoid future conflict, resolving it in favor of "accountability to an elected official," the mayor, rather than an appointed group, the commission.
After all, Bernard has put so much effort into his patronage-based, "members only" cronyism, especially in the appointment of all boards members and commissioners, it'd be a shame to see it all go to waste.