Questions surround police chief search process with chairman related to finalist

Is the selection process for Honolulu’s new police chief about to hit a snag?

Honolulu Police Commission chairman Max Sword is related to one of the finalists. So what could this mean for the final decision?

Sword went to the Honolulu Ethics Commission to let them know of his relationship to candidate Thomas Aiu.

Up until this point, the five Honolulu police commissioners only knew each police chief candidate by number.

They only learned of the names when they decided to move forward with seven finalists.

Sword disclosed to the ethics commission that the retired federal agent, now currently head of corporate security at Hawaiian Airlines, is his wife’s first cousin.

View his full statement on the issue below.

The ethics commission did not answer our questions Friday, so we turned to ethics professor Ken Lawson at the University of Hawaii William S. Richardson School of Law.

“Most individuals who are seated in a seat of public trust, when there’s a relative or a close friend with a contract or coming up from the job, they recuse themselves,” he said.

It’s a question Sword posed to the ethics commission.

The five commissioners will choose the new chief. How will the voting process work now? That’s up to the ethics commission.

To Lawson, the answer is simple: “He’s got to step back and say, ‘You know what, I’ve got to step back, because one of the candidates is a relative.”

The other six finalists in the running are Susan Ballard, Kurt Kendro, Kevin Lima, Mark Lomax, James Lowery, and Paul Putzulu.

We asked Lawson, even if the ethics commission allows Sword to remain part of the selection process, should he still step aside?

“In order for it to be transparent, yeah,” Lawson said. “Part of the reason why we’re in this position is there was a lack of trust in police department. Now we’re starting process where there may be favoritism shown. Give us a clean process, a process where everybody says you know what, it was done fair and square.”

The commissioners are holding the final interviews with the finalists in two weeks.

Statement from Max Sword regarding disclosure to ethics commission:

“After learning that Thomas Aiu was one of the seven finalists for the Chief of Police position, chosen by independent assessment panels on the mainland and Hawaii, I discussed with the Police Commission staff my relationship to him through my wife.  Mr. Aiu is her first cousin.

“The Police Commission staff then had informal discussions with the Ethics Commission on how to proceed on this matter to see if there is any conflict of interest.  Mr. Aiu and I do not interact on any business matters and we have no shared financial interests.

“In an abundance of caution, I have filed a Conflict of Interest disclosure statement with the Ethics Commission, and await their decision.

“I know I can be completely impartial and fair to all of the candidates.  I will not give special treatment to any one of them, and will use independent judgment in determining which of the candidates will be the best Chief of Police for the City and County of Honolulu.

“The Commission set up the entire selection process to be as objective as possible, with no Commission input on the candidate selection up to this point.  When the final seven candidates come before the Commission in 2 weeks, it will be our first interaction with them, as they were selected by outside panels.

“I fully intend to continue to perform my duties as a member of the Honolulu Police Commission, including participating in the interview and selection of our new Chief of Police, as objectively and responsibly as possible.”

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