Council grills Police Commission over planned payout to police chief

(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

Honolulu City Council members grilled Police Commission Chairman Max Sword on Tuesday over a plan to give Honolulu's embattled police chief a hefty settlement to walk away.

"It's very concerning," Councilwoman Kymberly Marcos Pine said. "That they're doing this backroom deal right now and they're going to vote on it and then nobody has a say until it's done. There's something wrong with that process."

Pine was one of two members on the Public Safety Committee who peppered Sword with questions about Chief Louis Kealoha's offer to retire -- and take with him an extra hundreds of thousands of dollars.

That's in addition to his retirement benefits and pension, which would already provide at least $150,000 a year.

"Any kind of package deal that is given to the police chief for his retirement, is that something that the council or the mayor has to approve?" asked Pine.

Sword replied: "I cannot comment to that at this time."

The deal, hammered out behind closed doors, won't be revealed until Jan. 18, when the police commission votes on it.

After the vote, it will be considered a done deal -- too late for the public to provide input.

Councilman Ernie Martin also criticized the plan. "A normal public employee, when they retire, they don't have the right to negotiate additional terms and conditions. It's a straight retirement," Martin said.

Martin continued: "It's technically not a retirement, it's more of a settlement would you say that's correct?"

Sword answered, "I'm not a lawyer."

Martin then asked: "It's a mis-characterization to say this is a retirement, wouldn't you agree?"

Sword responded, "We're splitting hairs here,"

Kealoha has been on paid leave since last month, after getting an FBI target letter that notified him he is a suspect in a federal public corruption scandal.

Kealoha still has two years left of his five-year term.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, council members quizzed Sword on why Kealoha wasn't fired outright.

"During this whole process," asked Pine, "was there any type of threat from Chief Kealoha or his lawyers to the police commission that they would file a lawsuit against the police commission and the city if he were to be fired?"

Sword responded: "I can't comment on that, I'm sorry."

Council members Pine and Martin said they want the commission's upcoming vote on the payout delayed until the council can be briefed, even if it means an emergency executive session.  

Councilman Trevor Ozawa agreed that the Council Chairman Ron Menor should initiate that special session so that council members can be part of the discussion.

Hawaii News Now did reach out to Menor's office, and his spokesman said the idea will be reviewed by the city's corporation counsel, the same city office that helped negotiate the chief's settlement.

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