State sheriff’s deputies were called to Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting following a feisty exchange between advocate Mitch Kahle and board Chairman Don Horner.
Kahle, founder of Hawaii Citizens for the Separation of Church and State, said he wanted to let the board know about his whistleblower lawsuit unsealed last week in state court that claims five churches have underpaid the Department of Education by more than $5.6 million over the past six years for the use of public schools.
The lawsuit claims the churches — New Hope Oahu, New Hope Hawaii Kai, New Hope Kapolei, One Love Ministries and Calvary Chapel Central Oahu — use the school facilities for longer periods than what they indicated on their applications.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Kahle and public advocate Holly Huber. They filed their lawsuit under seal in March to give the state the opportunity to join in. When the state attorney general declined, a state judge ordered the lawsuit unsealed.
"The DOE has actually been involved in a cover-up," Kahle said during the public testimony portion of the meeting.
Horner asked Kahle to wrap up his testimony after he hit the allotted two minutes. Kahle said he wasn’t finished.
"Don, as a pastor of New Hope, we understand why you don’t want this testimony to be heard," Kahle said, talking over Horner on a microphone. "You have a conflict of interest, and I would say to you that you might want to abstain from this discussion."
Horner is a licensed pastor and serves as a volunteer staff member of New Hope Diamond Head Church, according to his profile on the BOE’s website. He’s also a member of Hawaii Pastors Roundtable.
Horner, visibly agitated, responded, "For your information, sir, I’m in full compliance" with the state’s ethics code. "And you are out of order."
Kahle continued, saying subpoenas would be issued to obtain documents and witness testimony.
Horner interjected: "Mr. Kahle, can I ask one other question? If you could direct your threats to this board and to the senior management. Respectfully, I ask you not to threaten our employees in the field."
Kahle asked for an example, but Horner declined to elaborate, which upset Kahle, who later called the accusation slanderous.
Sheriff’s deputies were called during the exchange for the safety of board members, the superintendent and the public, a DOE spokeswoman said. Kahle had already left the room and was not questioned.