Chairman recuses himself from police chief search after ethics commission weighs in

The chairman of the Honolulu Police Commission is recusing himself from all proceedings relating to the search for Honolulu’s new chief of police.

According to chairman Max Sword, the Honolulu Ethics Commission recommended he do so due to his relationship with candidate Thomas Aiu, who is his wife’s first cousin.

Sword filed a conflict of interest disclosure statement with the ethics commission after learning the identities of the finalists.

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

They were revealed to police commissioners on Sept. 28, after the decision was made to move forward with seven of nine finalists.

But Sword says he did not get an affirmative confirmation of all the names until the following day on Friday, Sept. 29.

“As a chair, I know that some people said how come I didn’t do this,” he said. “I have to go with what is presented before me. I did not get an affirmative notice that he was a finalist until the 29th.”

Sword had informal meetings with the ethics commission that day, and filed an official notice the following week.

On Tuesday, he received an email from the commission with the answer he was waiting for.

“I’ll read it verbatim: ‘Honolulu Police Commission Chair Max Sword should recuse himself from the chief of police candidate vetting process including the final vote,’ which I will,” he said.

Sword released the following statement after receiving the email:

“The Ethics Commission has informed me today that I should recuse myself ‘from the chief of police candidate vetting and selection process, including the final vote’ due to a familial relationship, through my wife, with one of the candidates. I fully respect and accept their decision. I wanted to go through the proper channels before recusing myself and now that this decision has been made, we can move forward. This has in no way altered the Police Commission’s schedule in the selection process, and the Commission is still committed to naming a new police chief by the end of this month.”

Sword says the ethics commission says he should recuse himself, but did not tell him he had to.

“I tried to be objective as possible, as you know, from the very beginning,” he said. “I’ve asked the staff not to inform any of us on the commission on who applied, who of the 24 that took the test, who were the nine. From the very beginning, and I’ve mentioned this many times, only when the finalists were named, or when the cutoff was named for the finalists would the names be revealed. At that time, everybody was saying, ‘Well, so-and-so was this.’ I’m sorry, but I have to go in and be as objective as possible, and wait until the finalists came out.”

Sword says he believes he could have cast an impartial vote.

“I’ve been doing what I’ve been doing for 35 years,” he said. “You don’t do what I’ve been doing for 35 years if you’re not A, honest, and 2, fair.”

KHON2 asked, “Are you disappointed?”

“Of course. Anybody’s disappointed if you’re involved in an issue such as that. I believe the search is more important than my want to participate. The commission will proceed and stay with the timetable,” he replied. “I thought I could do a fair job. That’s water under the bridge. We’re moving forward. That’s what I hope, we can follow our timeline and get a chief named by the end of the month.”

Police commissioners are not paid for their service. Sword is currently vice president of industry affairs at Outrigger Hotels.

Under city law, a police commissioner cannot appoint a relative into a position. (See the quoted city charter below.)

We took a closer look at the language. A first cousin would be covered under the definition of relative, but there is no mention of a cousin through marriage.

Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell supports the move.

“Chair Sword informed me this afternoon that he received an opinion from the ethics commission today advising him to recuse himself from selection of the police chief, and that he will do so. As I stated earlier, this is the right decision,” Caldwell said in a statement.

That leaves the final decision up to the four remaining police commissioners: vice chair Cha Thompson, Eddie Flores Jr., Steven Levinson, and Loretta Sheehan.

Levinson says he’s not surprised by Sword’s recusal. “I think if I were in his position, I would do the same thing,” he said.

Flores sent us a statement that read: “It is very unfortunate since we are down to four commissioners to make the final selection for the new police chief. However it is proper for our chairman to recuse himself. He should have disclosed his relationship much earlier. I’m asking more questions. Hopefully he’ll answer.”

Sheehan told us, “Max did the right thing by recusing himself. By doing so, he keeps the selection process above board.”

Final interviews will be held in two weeks. Commissions will spend about two hours with each candidate.

All four commissioners need to agree on and pick the same person to become chief. But will they be able to do so?

“I certainly hope so,” said Levinson. “The Sunshine Law prevents more than two of us from talking about anything having to do with the commission outside of open session, so I don’t know where most of the other commissioners are coming from.”

“I hope that the four of us will be able to come to an agreement. We have great candidates. We should be able to find one we all agree upon,” Sheehan said.

In the event they cannot come to an agreement, Levinson said he will propose alternative ways of voting at the next commission meeting on Oct. 18.

When asked if she has a candidate already in mind, Sheehan said, “No, of course not. We haven’t even received the results of testing, and background checks. We haven’t conducted interviews. The public reaction to each of the candidates, however, has been positive, and each one appears to be qualified.”

We also reached out to Thompson, but have not heard back.

The public is invited to offer feedback on the candidates by emailing

Revised Charter of the City and County of Honolulu, Section 6-1112. Prohibitions:

6. Restrictions on Appointment and Promotion of Relatives.

(a) No public officer shall advocate one of his or her relatives for appointment or promotion to a position in the same agency or in an agency over which he or she exercises jurisdiction or control.

(b) No public officer shall appoint or promote within the agency to which he or she has been assigned or within an agency over which such officer exercises jurisdiction or control:

(1) one of his or her relatives; or

(2) one of the relatives of either a second public officer of his or her agency or a second public officer who exercises jurisdiction over his or her agency, if the second public officer has advocated the appointment or promotion of that officer’s relative.

(c) This subsection shall not prohibit a public officer from appointing or promoting a relative to a position if the relative is on the applicable eligible list submitted by the director of human resources in accordance with the civil service charter provisions, laws, and rules.

(d) As used in this paragraph:

(1) A public officer is deemed to “advocate the appointment or promotion of a relative” if the public officer recommends or refers the officer’s relative for appointment or promotion by another officer standing lower in the chain of command. “Chain of command” means the line of supervisory personnel that runs through the involved public officers to the head of the relevant agency.

(2) “Agency” means the same as defined under Section 13-101 of this charter, the council, and any council office.

(3) “Appointment” means the selection of a person to fill a position or the hiring of a person to provide a personal service.

(4) “Public officer” means an employee or officer as defined under Section 13-101 of this charter.

(5) “Relative” of a public officer means a person who is related to the officer as father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, uncle, aunt, first cousin, nephew, niece, husband, wife, father-in-law, mother-in-law, sonin-law, daughter-in-law, stepfather, stepmother, stepson, stepdaughter, stepbrother, stepsister, half brother, or half sister.

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