New proposal to make Honolulu prosecuting attorney appointed by mayor

Local News

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Honolulu City Council Member Tommy Waters introduced a new resolution to allow people to vote in this year’s ballot on whether or not they want the prosecuting attorney to become an appointed position by the mayor, instead of being voted in by the public, as it is now.

The proposal comes as current Honolulu Prosecutor Keith Kaneshiro nears his 11th month on paid leave amid a federal corruption investigation.

“We have a situation where our elected official, making six figures, is able to put himself on paid leave and then appoint his successor, not an elected official… and that’s the problem I have,” said Waters.

He wants to change the law to give the mayor the power to appoint the prosecutor, but also have the ability to remove and replace the position quickly.

“Even if the person got convicted of a crime, it would be very difficult to remove that person from elected office, the only mechanism is through impeachment,” said Waters.

However, political analyst and Hawaii Pacific University professor Dr. John Hart said, this may be a hard sell.

“If we should let this be an appointed position, how much do you trust the person who’s doing the appointing?,” said Dr. Hart.

As seen in the past, appointed positions don’t always mean quick firings. The role of Honolulu Police Chief is an appointed position, but it took nearly a month and a $250,000 buyout to remove Louis Kealoha from the position after he received a federal target letter.

That process also came under criticism, since many of the decisions happened behind closed doors with little transparency.

Dr. Hart said in light of that, many may not want to give this kind of power to the mayor.

“It seems to me in this whole investigation, we gave people in office a lot of leeway, and is this necessarily going to fix things if the same people are going to be in charge of whether or not to pull the trigger to dismiss,” said Dr. Hart.

Waters sees the situation differently.

“It works on Maui and it works for our state attorney general, so I’m not really worried about that,” said Waters.

He said if the rules change, the public would still have some oversight through city council hearings.

However, in the case of a removal, it’s unclear how much information would be made public.

So far the resolution is being heard at the council. If it goes through, we may see the question on the ballot. The only way for the change is if a majority of people vote to change the prosecuting attorney position from an elected office to an appointed position.

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