Remember Emily Litella, the Gilda Radner character who invariably delivered the line, ”never mind” upon learning she'd gotten it all terribly wrong?
She came to mind yesterday when I watched a video clip of Mayor Bernard Carvalho saying Police Chief Darryl Perry could return to work.
Yup, the past six weeks of stress, agony, turmoil, chaos and confusion that the mayor inflicted on the chief, the public and KPD turned out to be a big “nevah mind.” Because aside from the chief's haggard appearance, nothing is substantially different than it was when the mayor pulled him off the job.
Though much of the discussion has centered on whether the mayor had the authority to first suspend the chief and then place him on paid leave, little has been said about whether such an action was necessary.
Events have shown that it obviously wasn't. If you will recall, when the mayor suspended the chief on Feb. 1, and Mike Contrades was named acting chief, the county issued this statement:
This leadership structure will be in place until the investigation of an employee complaint has been concluded.
That complaint is still under investigation, and the two assistant chiefs named in it — Ale Quibilan and Roy Asher — remain on leave. Yet the mayor has decided it's now OK for the chief to return to work. Why? It's called backing down.
During the press conference, my ears pricked when I heard the mayor say:
"We are confident that the Chief can provide the leadership for this organization while the investigation into an employee complaint is conducted with integrity to its conclusion.”
“I also believe that through discussion with the [police] commission we have reached a place of consensus on how the department should be managed beginning today.”
So what, I wondered, had changed in the management or leadership of the department that had shifted the mayor's thinking so dramatically, renewed his confidence in the chief to the point where he would allow him to return to work?
I posed that question to county spokeswoman Beth Tokioka, and got this reply:
The Mayor declined to provide specifics as to the discussions that have taken place with the Commission Chair and the Chief. So I have no specifics to provide other than to say that the Mayor is comfortable based on these discussions that the Chief can resume his duties, manage the department, and that the integrity of the complaint can be protected while he is still working.
I asked the chief the same question, and he gave me this answer:
Because of our internal para-military organizational structure, coupled with strong policies and procedures, the management of the department has not changed. I believe, what the Mayor was alluding to relates more so to the area of leadership with the experience I bring to this organization.
In other words, nothing has really changed, except Bernard's stance, perhaps because he finally realized that he had dug the county into a pretty deep and potentially expensive hole by his heavy-handed treatment of the chief.
Some, most notably a certain “rabid reporter,” continue to assert that the mayor, fearful of another expensive lawsuit, was justified in suspending the chief, who had supposedly “botched” an employee's hostile workplace complaint.
But through my investigations, I've since learned the chief didn't botch that complaint. Back in October, when the complaint was first made, Chief Perry notified the county attorney's office and reportedly got no response when he asked for assistance. At the same time, Perry directed Mark Begley, who is assistant chief in charge of administration, to procure the services of an outside investigator — an assignment that Begley only recently completed.
Why the foot dragging? Perhaps Begley was doing a little payback of his own, seeing as how he'd just been demoted from deputy chief, and Perry had named Mike Contrades as the department's number two man instead.
Begley has been viewed somewhat sympathetically — “poor guy, what could he do?” — when he obeyed the mayor and refused three direct orders from the chief to give him back his gun, badge and keys after police commissioners voted unanimously that Perry should return to work.
But it's hard to view Begley as a victim when his political alliances are clear. In 2010, Begley made four contributions totaling $1,180 to Carvalho's campaign — $300 on May 20 and $250 on May 24, followed by $330 on July 12 and $300 on Oct. 12.
This is a level of giving on par with the mayor's top managers, his most loyal followers. That might explain why the mayor is now trying to protect Begley, saying the Police Commission must resolve the question of who has authority over the chief before it deals with Begley's insubordination to Perry.
And it would also explain why it was Perry, and not the mayor, who chose Mike Contrades to serve as acting chief while Perry was on leave, even though Mike was off-island at FBI training school at the time. He apparently (and correctly) viewed Mike as more trustworthy.
I also learned that the mayor's meddling hasn't been limited to placing the chief on leave. The mayor also refused to allow the Police Commission to investigate the complaint against Quibilan, which it is clearly empowered by the charter to do, just as it has authority to deal with the Begley insubordination issue.
Still trying to find some meaning to this madness, aside from power grabbing and politics, I sent an email to the chief. What was the point, I asked, of all this trauma and disruption? His reply:
I agree, I was wondering the same thing, because it’s so destructive both as a citizen of Kauai and someone who is directly involved. But I can assure you, it did not come from me or the Police Commission, but to the Mayor’s credit I’m glad that he has decided to work in cooperation with the PC to get clarity and resolution to the issue of power and authority over the Chief of Police.
Did anything of value come from it? I asked. Are you able to shed any light on that?
I believe this whole situation will not be in vain if, as I mentioned, clarity of the County Charter is realized. Here in rests the true value, because future Mayors, Police Commissioners, and Police Chiefs will have better guidance, and not have to rely on subjective interpretations by future County Attorneys and/or Managing Directors.
But in watching the press conference, it was not at all clear that anyone would be actively seeking that clarity. Just as it is not at all clear that any steps have been taken to improve the performance of the deputy county attorney who is assigned to handle workplace complaints, or create a bonafide office of human relations.
Like I said, all this drama has been for naught, because nothing has changed.
Or as Emily would say, "never mind."