Wednesday, December 9, 2009


A “CONCERTED CONSPIRATORIAL EFFORT”?: A few years back the Kaua`i County Council finally discovered the best way to manipulate the dialogue before the cameras during what some of them call “the show” by taking required testimony on agenda items before and only before their discussions and then, if it’s embarrassing, finding a way to deflect it- often by answering a different question or addressing a different topic than the testimony raised.

Never was that more in evidence than at the last council meeting when the subject of former Kaua`i Police Department (KPD) Chief KC Lum’s lawsuit against the county was addressed.

Council watchdog Glen Mickens had the temerity to state that the persecution and dismissal of Lum was a “concerted conspiratorial effort” which, as the local newspaper’s Michael Levine reported, was met with vehement denials by two of the Minotaur’s gate keepers, Councilmembers Darryl Kaneshiro and Jay Furfaro, and the bone-gnasher himself Chair Kaipo Asing.

But what those who read the article or watched the cablecast of the meeting might have missed was the slight of hand on the council’s part in addressing, not the agenda item detailing an appropriation to fight the Lum lawsuit- which was struck down again in federal court at the 9th circuit level days before, apparently unbeknownst to the council at the time- but the separate somewhat related case of ES-177 which was “won” by the county weeks ago in Hawai`i Supreme Court.

The smoke and mirrors, hocus-pocus was because the charge of there having been a “concerted conspiratorial effort” to get rid of Lum would be difficult if not impossible to deny by anyone who really followed the saga from start to finish.

The first thing about the 9th Circuit decision that should be noted is that they did not rule that there was no conspiracy to get rid of Lum in general, just that it wasn’t race based.

As reported in another article- this one on the 9th Circuit decision itself- the court specifically said:

Lum and attorney Clayton Ikei failed to show former county Finance Department Director Michael Tresler acted with conspiracy based on racial bias when Tresler canceled Lum’s employment agreement (emphasis added)

The second important thing was that the decision was based on the “fact” that former Police Commission Chair Michael Ching showed bias in the hiring of Lum, based on a Board of Ethics (BOE) case that was enforced by the county council after a BOE “trial” of Ching which was held behind closed doors at Ching's behest.

It should be noted that fellow Police Commissioner Carol Furtado was brought up on the same charges of favoritism but chose a public hearing of her case resulting in an acquittal, most observers believe, because it was held in the open.

But looking at the whole sad story it would have been truly absurd for the council to claim that there was no concerted conspiratorial effort in Lum’s firing.

Let’s remember how it happened concerning at least two pertinent events.

The whole business started when former Councilperson and former KPD Officer Mel Rapozo came onto the council along with now Prosecutor Shaylene Iseri-Carvalho, both of whom held a grudge against Lum for events in their past.

Rapozo had been in the room during the infamous “lap dancer” molestation incident and Lum was the lieutenant on duty that night. When Officer Darla Abbatiello- who later sued and won a suit for harassment against the department and county- burst into Lum’s office and told him what was happening down the hall, Lum had no choice but to report the incident- something Rapozo and others to this day claim resulted in the firing of the “three good officer” who molested the “lap dancer” and the resignation of Rapozo who, supposedly, “just” stood by watching and laughing.

Iseri’s grudge came from a party she was hosting at Lydgate Park pavilion where the level of noise and boisterousness was such that a complaint was filed and Lum was the responding officer. A drunken Iseri, then a deputy prosecutor, confronted Lum when he came a second time to tell her to break it up and she always held a grudge based on the incident according to multiple sources.

Then came ES-177 and, according to an OIP letter to County Clerk Peter Nakamura during the back and forth about releasing the minutes, Rapozo went off on the whole department, especially Lum, detailing what he saw as injustices.

Rapozo obviously thought no one would ever know what he said since no executive session minutes had ever been released by the council- a fact still true today. Since it would have been embarrassing to the newly elected Rapozo had the minutes been released Chair Asing took the opportunity to try to corral the “maverick” Rapozo and hang the ES content over his head, assuring compliance with Asing's wishes and machinations over the next two council terms whenever Rapozo’s enthusiasm got in the way or “rocked the boat” as Asing is fond of saying.

It was in fact Asing who filed the charges with the BOE against Lum, at first on council letterhead and then, when he realized the whole council had never approved such a charge and that it would have indeed been an ethics violation to use his office to file the complaint against Ching, he said he made a “mistake” and said he was filing as a private citizen.

But the real heart of the conspiracy occurred at the mayor-appointed, council-confirmed BOE. The Ching case was heard by a retired Maui judge in secret and the secret report was given to the BOE. But while the report the BOE released to the council seemed to indicate that Ching had indeed used his position to secure a special privilege for Lum that wasn’t what the full report indicated.

Citizen activist Richard Stauber came before the council during the council’s session held to approve the BOE report and had a copy of the full report in which the judge essentially said that nothing untoward had happened and actually exonerated Ching although he did allow the county attorney’s office to write up the summery judgment which is what the council considered without officially seeing the whole report.

Saying a “little bird dropped (the full document) in my widow” Stauber tried to present it to the council as part of his testimony. But the council, perhaps fully aware of the content and not wanting the full report to become part of the public record, actually not only refused to accept the document and but when Stauber placed it on their table they instructed staff to physically give it back to Stauber.

Though the document was presented to the then council-beat reporter for the local newspaper Lester Chang- whose writing skills bordered on incompetence and who was widely known for his kow-towing to Asing and his penchant for trying to please the council- he refused to report on or even mention the additional data making sure that the general public never heard about the full report.

Finally a reluctant Mayor Bryan Baptiste, who originally really wanted the whole thing to just go away but later came to see which way the wind was blowing, joined the conspiracy apparently instructing Finance Director Michael Tressler- who was reward with a cushy. do-nothing vice-presidency at a big local land owner Grove Farm- to terminate Lum’s contract, resulting in Lum’s retirement because if he had allow himself to be “fired” as chief it could have resulted in him losing his seniority and thus pension.

Many other little oddities occurred during the time, mostly related to Police Commissioner Leon Gonsalves’ “hop sing” letter.

That bled over into the Lum persecution which also involved supporters of current Police Chief Darryl Perry including his brother, prominent attorney Warren Perry, and the leadership of the police union SHOPPO along with others in the administration who had begun to understand that their support of Lum might lead to consequences such as when another officer was disciplined for circulating a petition supporting Lum.

Soon the silence in support of Lum was deafening and no one was left to say boo when he was canned.

We certainly haven’t covered all the elements of the conspiracy here. To find out more details, if you’ve never read former Honolulu Star Bulletin Kaua`i Bureau Chief Anthony Sommer’s book KPD Blue (see left rail) it’s about time you did. And if any of the names or terms seem unfamiliar you can cut and paste them into the search box at the top of the page to see our past coverage.

What’s perhaps most galling about last Wednesday’s council “show” was the little conspiracy in the room and the way councilmembers browbeat and intimidated Mickens because, although he sat through the whole debacle along with Sommer and PNN, he might not always be as quick with his wits and as ready for confrontation as we might be had we been there and been given the opportunity to say what we’ve said here.

So pick on someone your own size Kaipo, Jay and Darryl. Anytime, any place we’d be not just glad but elated to debate any or all of you on the topic of the “concerted conspiratorial effort”. No?- well your silence is deafening, especially given your treatment of other who may be less articulate when they appear before you and your avoidance of people who can verbally hold their own.

We feel that Lum made a mistake in trying to make the whole case about racial/ethnic discrimination rather than a general wrongful termination. We also feel like his attorney Clayton Ikei didn’t serve him well in the various courts. Since it’s doubtful Lum has the money to continue the fight it seems that the county’s victory at the three-judge-panel level of the federal 9th Circuit will stand.

To claim there was no conspiracy in general to reverse the hiring of Lum- who would have been approved by the commission even without Ching's vote- unfortunately serves as a lesson to those who might enter the Minotaur’s labyrinth- have your wits about you and sword drawn even when the dark is as dark as can be, lest you serve as grist for the bonemill.

No comments: