State Procurement Office investigates OHA over lucrative, non-bid contract

`Ano`ai kakou…  On May 8, 2017, Hawaii News Now reported that “a criminal probe is now underway on a lucrative, non-bid contract issued by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.”  They also reported that “the state Attorney General’s office has subpoenaed records relating to an OHA’s contract with [a] Hawaiian scholar…  Sources said the subpoena was issued to the State Procurement Office, which recently found that OHA improperly awarded the contract without competitive bidding.”

In early May, OHA received a copy of a letter from Sara Allen, the Administrator of the State Procurement Office (SPO), to Mililani Trask regarding OHA’s Contract No. 2879 with Kuauli ꞌĀina-Based Insights LLC.  It stated that a certain division of our staff had violated the State Procurement laws.

This news was not a revelation to me, as I had been informing the Trustees that this behavior had been going on for a very long time.  As the former Chair, I wanted this behavior stopped.

It was the main reason for my rescinding the procurement duties from the OHA CEO, which caused a furor by some management staff and some of the public.  However, the public was not aware of OHA’s internal problems and did not understand my reasoning for this removal of this power.  Needless to say, my detractors used this to say the Board was dysfunctional under my two-month watch and it was a reason to elect a new Chair.  As a result, the “old guard” was put back in power.

So here we go again, faced with the same problems, only in worse shape now because it isn’t just the State Procurement Office who is looking into OHA.  We didn’t do well at the legislature last year or this year, and our beneficiaries question the ability of some Trustees to manage our Trust assets.

Can OHA be fixed?  Yes, but it will take political will on the part of some Trustees to do what is necessary to make this organization into one that our beneficiaries can be proud of and our employees happy to work for.  Aloha Ke Akua.

Legislative Update (2017)

`Ano`ai kakou…  The legislature is about ready to wrap things up.  Here are two of the most harmful pieces of legislation that is currently threatening OHA and the Native Hawaiian Trust:

APPOINTING OHA TRUSTEES THREATENS THE VOICE OF THE PEOPLE

The House (HCR94/HR56) and Senate (SCR85/SR33) introduced resolutions that would ask OHA to convene a group of Hawaiian leaders, legal scholars, and Hawaiian community members to review whether it’d be better to appoint OHA Trustees rather than elect them.  The group would consider what the appropriate appointing authority would be and how to develop a list of the best qualified potential trustees.

OHA has always been an independent agency built on the goal of Native Hawaiian autonomy and self-determination.  Appointing Trustees would kill any hope of true self-determination and make OHA just another part of the state.

An appointed Trustee would only be loyal to whoever appointed them.  Elected Trustees are loyal to their constituents.  Would the people of Hawaii accept Senators and Representatives that were appointed by the Governor?  OHA should be no different.

Elected Trustees have built OHA into the impressive institution it is today.  We did it on our own, without someone above us second-guessing our every move.  An appointed Board of Trustees could never match our vision, determination, and drive to tackle the many challenges our beneficiaries face.

OHA COLLECTIVE BARGAINING?

HB865 threatens to undermine the autonomy of OHA Trustees as OHA’s independent decision makers and fiduciaries of the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund.  Amendment to HRS § 89-6 could result in the OHA Board of Trustees holding only 1 of 14 votes when negotiating a collective bargaining agreement involving OHA employees, whose salaries make up a significant portion of OHA’s operating budget.

Together with the requirements of the Civil Service Law, HRS Chapter 76, the Trustees’ ability to oversee and plan for personnel expenses would depend in large part to the decisions of the executive branch and Governor, who would hold 7 votes in collective bargaining negotiations involving OHA employees.

Such a voting imbalance would effectively require the OHA Board of Trustees to hand over control over some of its key expenditures to the State.  The requirements of civil service and collective bargaining would force OHA to change the way it hires, compensates, and maintains its workforce.

Representative Kaniela Ing

So what do both of these measures infringing on OHA’s autonomy have in common?  They were introduced in the House by Representative Kaniela Ing.  This isn’t the first year he’s introduced them, but this has to stop.  This is the third year in a row he’s done this!

Whatever Rep. Ing’s intentions may be, it’s clear his proposals would end OHA’s autonomy and make us a part of the state.  Hawaiians have been struggling for many years to restore our sovereignty and self-determination, whether it’s through nation-within-a-nation model or full independence.  A state-controlled OHA would cripple those efforts and threaten the resources OHA is holding for the new nation.

The Board of Education is now appointed by the Governor.  Are things better with public schools?  The Department of Hawaiian Home Lands has commissioners appointed by the Governor.  Are you satisfied with how it’s performing?  I pray that the young Representative from Maui would put more thought into his proposals; otherwise we need to convince his constituents to look for someone else to represent them.  Aloha Ke Akua.

Transition: Change doesn’t have to be painful

‘Ano‘ai kakou.  As you may have heard through the media, this has been a turbulent few months for OHA.  It is heartbreaking that OHA cannot be focused on what our beneficiaries are demanding – assistance with housing, education, and health.

Change is never easy, but I want to state for the record that all of the initiatives I fought for in the past two months were for one purpose only:  To protect the Native Hawaiian Trust Fund, now and into the future, for our beneficiaries.  If my first initiatives were passed by the Board, our beneficiaries would have seen immediate change for the better.  We were so close.

By a majority vote of the Board we wanted to negotiate a buyout of the CEO/Administrator/Ka Pouhana’s contract.  We felt that OHA could do so much more for our beneficiaries if we could change the course of where the Administration was headed.  A buyout would have been the least painful way to bring about that change.  The CEO would receive a negotiated sum of money and his reputation would be intact since we wouldn’t have to air any “dirty laundry” in the public.  But as everyone who read the newspaper or watched the evening news lately knows, it didn’t work out that way.

On a positive note, Trustee Keli‘i Akina’s proposal to conduct a more comprehensive audit of OHA, which will look into things that the three mandated OHA audits don’t cover, looks like it will become a reality.  On February 8th, the Resource Management Committee formed an Advisory Committee to make recommendations to the Board on the scope of a proposed financial audit and management review.  Our beneficiaries should be proud because this is only coming about because you demanded it.  I look forward to the audit and finally answer the one question I’ve been asking nonstop for the last decade:  Where is all the money really going?

On February 9th, the Board elected Colette Machado as the new Chair of the Board of Trustees.  While she has been part of a faction that has no love for my demands for fiscal accountability, I know that she will do her best to be fair.  I will definitely to my part to help her move OHA in the right direction again so that the Board can make a real impact in the lives of our beneficiaries.

However, I was disappointed to see that Trustee Machado was able to let former Trustee Haunani Apoliona use her column space in the February Ka Wai Ola as her soapbox to attack me, while my original February article was banned by the CEO because he felt it was too critical of the Administration and the Trustees that support him.  I’ll let you, the readers, be the judge of whether that is favoritism or not.

Trustee Hulu Lindsey remains Chair of the Resource Management Committee, so we can expect the new leadership structure to honor our beneficiaries’ call more transparency at OHA.

OHA must be an agency that treats our beneficiaries equally and it’s now up to the new leadership to make sure there is an even playing field at OHA.  Most of the OHA Staff just want to do their jobs and I ask that the general public withhold their judgment during this time of change.  Rome wasn’t built in a day and we cannot change OHA in a few months.

Mahalo nui loa and God bless you all.

Looking forward to a new year

Happy Year of the Rooster!  I would like to offer my warmest Aloha to Trustee Haunani Apoliona who left OHA after 20-years of service to our beneficiaries.  We may have had our share of differences in the past two decades but I never doubted the commitment of Trustee Apoliona or her dedicated staff, Reynold Freitas and Louise Yee-Hoy, to serving our Native Hawaiian beneficiaries.  I wish them all a fond farewell and best wishes on their future endeavors.

I would also like to congratulate newly elected OHA Trustee William Keli’i Akina and welcome him to the Board of Trustees.  He shares my passion to make OHA fiscally sustainable and I look forward to working with him to fulfill OHA’s mission to better the conditions of Native Hawaiians.

Hope for change

A new year brings new hope that OHA can finally make the changes it needs to improve its overall effectiveness.  Some of the areas we can focus on include:

  • Getting OHA back in touch with the “Big Picture.” We must refocus our Administrative Staff towards areas that our beneficiaries feel matter the most such as health and housing.
  • OHA needs to move towards a merit-based system that relies more on what you know instead of who you know. Loyalty alone should not determine who gets to be the highest paid and promoted employees.  Those who actually know things must be included in decision making process.
  • OHA needs to revisit its policies and rules. In the past 5 to 6 years we have tied our own hands with rules that hamper our efforts to help our beneficiaries.  We need to find a more efficient way to run our essential programs such as community grants.  In 2017, we must re-evaluate what we have been doing and where we should be going.
  • OHA needs to allow some amount of criticism to enter our discussions about how we operate. A Trustees or staff member that points out a problem should not be seen as some sort of threat or obstacle.  No one should be afraid of sharing their ideas or intimidated into keeping quiet.
  • Cooperation between Trustees and the Administration should be encouraged. Current communication protocols forbid Trustees from directly contacting Administrative Staff and Managers.  All communications must go through a process that is inefficient and discourages collaborative work.  This needs to change.

It will take dedication and a commitment by Trustees to transform OHA back into the effective agency it once was.  We need to serve our beneficiaries with a purpose that will produce meaningful results in all aspects of their lives.  Somewhere along the way we lost sight of what a Trust is and its true purpose has been pushed aside.  Our goal for 2017 should be to return our focus back to our beneficiaries.

I would like to wish my fellow Trustees and all of our beneficiaries a very safe and Happy New Year!  Aloha Ke Akua.

Wrapping-up 2016

Congratulations to all of the candidates who were elected to office in 2016.  Campaigning is a grueling process but the real work is about to begin.  I look forward to working with all of you in the 2017 Legislative Session to better the conditions of Native Hawaiians.

The Constitution of the Native Hawaiian Nation

On February 26, 2016, the majority of the Na‘i Aupuni ‘aha participants voted to adopt The Constitution of the Native Hawaiian Nation.  As one of 154 individuals that participated in the ‘aha, it is very difficult to put into words what an awesome experience this was for me.  Not only was this an important historical turning point in our history, but it was moving to see people who were often on opposite sides of an issue come together for the good of the whole and finally draft the governing documents needed to restore our nation.

Forced Land Sales Bills

During the 2016 legislative session, Kamehameha Schools led the charge against legislation that would have forced Hawai‘i’s landowners to sell leasehold lands to their lessees.  If HB 1635 or HB 2173 had become law, private land developers could have moved in to condemn and redevelop historical lands that were passed down from generation to generation of Hawaiians.

Thankfully, on February 8th, KS announced that the House cancelled the hearing for HB 1635 and HB 2173, which effectively killed the bills.  However, 2017 brings a new legislative session with new legislators who are unfamiliar with the issue.  Let us all be makaꞌala (watchful).

Wishing our dear Princess a very happy 90th birthday

It was with great admiration and respect that I dedicated this column to honoring Her Royal Highness Princess Abigail Kinoiki Kekaulike Kawananakoa who celebrated her 90th birthday on April 26th.  Age has not slowed her efforts to help the Hawaiian people and to preserve and protect in perpetuity the legacy passed down to the present generation.

One Voice, One Message

On August 24th, the BAE Committee and OHA’s CEO proposed a new policy called “One Voice, One Message,” which required that all external communications be submitted to the CEO for review and approval prior to execution or engagement.

If this policy were to be approved, Trustees will no longer be able to publically voice their opposition to any board decision without facing severe sanctions for speaking out against the majority.  Thankfully, the proposal was deferred due to concerns about it being unconstitutional.  I will continue to strongly oppose this undemocratic policy if it returns to the board table.

The U.S. Department of the Interior announces a pathway to nationhood

On September 23, 2016, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) announced a “final rule to create a pathway for reestablishing a formal government-to-government relationship with the Native Hawaiian community.”  It is now time for all of us to work together for the cause of recognition.  While the board has NOT voted to accept the rules as written, let us begin to agree on the things that we can agree to and set aside the things we differ on and move forward together for the future generations of Hawaiians yet to come.

Merry Christmas

May each of you have a joyful and merry Christmas surrounded by family and friends.  Stay safe out there.  Aloha Ke Akua.

The U.S. Department of the Interior announces a pathway to nationhood

`Ano`ai kakou…  Let me begin by expressing my warmest aloha to all the candidates who had the courage and commitment to participate in this year’s election.  Campaigning can be a blood sport, but now it is time to put aside our differences and get back to bettering the lives of our constituents.

On Friday, September 23, 2016, the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) announced a “final rule to create a pathway for reestablishing a formal government-to-government relationship with the Native Hawaiian community.”  “The final rule sets out an administrative procedure and criteria that the U.S. Secretary of the Interior would use if the Native Hawaiian community forms a unified government that then seeks a formal government-to-government relationship with the United States.”

According the DOI, “The final rule builds on more than 150 Federal statutes that Congress enacted over the last century to recognize and implement the special political and trust relationship between the United States and the Native Hawaiian community. It also considered and addressed extensive public comments during the rulemaking process, which included public meetings in Hawaii and the mainland United States.”

The time has come for all us to come together in spirit and put some meaningful effort into re-establishing the political relationship between Native Hawaiians and the Federal government to re-organize our Native Hawaiian Governing Entity.  Once done, we will be able to protect all of our Hawaiian trust assets from the constant threat of lawsuits.  This is why I have always supported state and federal recognition.

As I traveled around the state, I spoke to many people who were confused about the process towards nationhood.  I can only conclude that OHA has not done enough to educate the public.  This situation has to change.  Trustees are going to have to speak up about the many positive results that Hawaiian Nationhood would bring for both Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians.  I assure all of you that, after listening to your mana’o, I will do everything that is humanly possible to address your concerns.

What is also needed is your participation.  You must challenge EACH Trustee to be accountable to you.  It is unfortunate that you cannot assume that Trustees will do this on their own.  Like any organization, from time to time, especially when one faction has been in power for too long like it has been at OHA, “the people” need to become actively involved.  Otherwise we will risk having to deal with complacency and the abuse of power.

What we face today as Hawaiians is no different than what has occurred over the past 100 years.  We are still fighting off assaults on our culture, the deterioration of our rights to our lands, and attacks from racist organizations.

Let us begin to work together for the cause of recognition.  Let us begin to agree on the things that we can agree to and set aside the things we differ on and move forward together for the future generations of Hawaiians yet to come.

As we approach the close of 2016, I would like to wish each of you a very safe and happy holiday season, and may the Lord in his grace bless each of you and your families and take you safely into 2017.  Happy Thanksgiving!

Aloha pumehana.

Gagging Dissenters

`Ano`ai kakou…  This could be the last time you read any hard truths about OHA in my columns.  On August 24th, the BAE Committee and OHA’s CEO proposed a new policy called “One Voice, One Message,” which requires that all external communications be submitted to the CEO for review and approval prior to execution or engagement.

If this policy is approved, Trustees will no longer be able to publically voice their opposition to any board decision without facing severe sanctions for speaking out against the majority.  So if five Trustees vote to approve a position, the remaining four Trustees will be forced to go along with the majority.

While it should be forehead slapping obvious why this is a terrible idea, allow me to list some of the reasons why:

  • WE ARE A DEMOCRACY. The First Amendment guarantees we can express our opinions.  Beneficiaries and voters who put us in office demand it.  Only petty Dictators in third world countries gag dissent.  First world democracies allow full and free discussions to take place.  Just imagine if Democrats had tried to gag Republicans after Obama Care was passed.  They wouldn’t stand for it!
  • WHY IS A PR FIRM WRITING OHA POLICY? – The proposed “One Voice, One Message” policy was prepared by Neal Yokota, President and CEO of Stryker Wiener & Yokota Public Relations, Inc. OHA policy must always be written in-house with the input and review of OHA attorneys.
  • TRUSTEES ARE REQUIRED BY LAW TO VOICE THEIR DISSENT. According to The Uniform Custodial Trust Act (HRS §554A-6), if we don’t express our dissent in writing before a vote is taken, we will be liable for the illegal or negative actions taken by the majority.
  • THE POLICY IS SHORT SIGHTED. Future Trustees could use “One Voice, One Message” to stifle dissent while they funnel millions in Trust dollars (grants, contracts, high-paying positions, leases) to their family and friends.
  • WHISTLE BLOWERS.One Voice, One Message” conflicts with HRS 378-62, which protects employees who report violations of law by their employers.
  • THE MAJORITY IS NOT ALWAYS RIGHT. If you had a vote on the mainland, I am sure that the majority would vote to outlaw interracial marriage.  Does that mean dissenters should just go along with the majority?  Hell no!  Wrong is wrong no matter what the majority says.
  • IT’S MISLEADING.One Voice, One Message” sounds like Orwellian doublethink.  It’s not about unity at all; it’s really about eliminating all dissenters, whether they are OHA Trustees or employees.

It’s clear this is all part of a greater scheme by the Board Chair and the CEO.  They recently passed another policy on sanctioning Trustees who go against any OHA policy.  Now it’s painfully obvious they did that to give serious teeth to this new policy gagging dissenters.  “One Voice, One Message” is the final piece they need to empower the CEO at the expense of the Board of Trustees.

Thankfully, due to controversy, the proposal was deferred to the next BAE meeting.  I will continue to strongly oppose it and I pray my fellow Trustees won’t go along with such foolishness.

Bring back the Land Committee

`Ano`ai kakou…  By the time you read this article you will have voted in the Primary Election.  I hope you took my advice and voted for new people.  Let me tell you why this is important, especially in the OHA races.

About a year ago, at the urging of the current Board Chair, two committees were collapsed into one.  The Budget Committee and the Land Committee became the Committee on Resource Management chaired by Trustee Colette Machado.   The excuse was to save time and effort, but the real reason was to consolidate power.

Since that time very little, if anything, has happened in the new combined committee.  Trustees have received little or no information on our land negotiations.  For instance:

  • MAUNA KEA: On May 26, 2015, Governor David Ige announced that he asked UH, which subleases the Mauna Kea summit area from the state, to make ten changes to improve its stewardship of Mauna Kea.  One of the changes included UH voluntarily returning to the state more than 10,000 acres that are not specifically needed for astronomy.  I believe UH should turn the lands over to OHA, since all 11,300 acres of land within the Mauna Kea Science Reserve are public land trust lands classified under section 5(b) of the Admissions Act.  What better solution could there be than to put Hawaiian lands in Hawaiian hands?  OHA has now put the State and UH on notice that we are considering legal action against both.
  • KAKAAKO MAKAI: In 2012, when OHA received Kakaako lands in our settlement with the State over past-due ceded land revenues, none of us knew that the Hawaii Community Development Authority (HCDA), which has jurisdiction over development in the area, planned to lease the harbor in Kakaako.  OHA has been negotiating with the HCDA to get them to compromise on their plans to put “finger piers” in front of our Fisherman’s Wharf property.
  • LEGISLATIVE THREATS: Earlier in the year, the legislature tried to pass a “forced land sales” bills.  If HB 1635 and HB 2173 had become law, developers could use it to forced Hawai‘i’s landowners to sell leasehold lands to their lessees.  Kamehameha Schools led the charge against the legislation since nearly 80 percent of their commercial properties are leased.  Also, our ceded lands controlled by DLNR could have been threatened and it would have also hurt the ability of Native Hawaiian organizations and trusts to fulfill their missions.

No matter what explanation is given for all of the missed opportunities that OHA has had this past year to fulfill its mission, it all comes down to leadership and the lack of it.  To top all of this off, a five to four vote is hardly a vote of confidence to hire back an OHA Administrator who many Trustees feel lacks the business and economic development experience to move OHA forward in the black column instead of the steady red.

These are the reasons OHA needs a breath of fresh air.  VOTE FOR CHANGE.  IMUA!

Are you satisfied with the status quo?

`Ano`ai kakou…  After serving on legendary boards that worked hard to build OHA and strengthen its ability to serve our beneficiaries, it frustrates me that we’ve become so stagnated in the last few years.  If you don’t agree that OHA is standing still, ask yourself this – When’s the last time you’ve seen OHA in the news?

In the past, OHA accomplished big things with less staff and less money.  OHA was frequently in the news doing important things that mattered like establishing a state-wide property tax exemption for Native Hawaiians living on Kuleana lands (an effort which I spearheaded); providing $4.4 million in grants to Hawaiian Focused Public Charter Schools; preserving 25,000 acres of Native Hawaiian rainforest known as Wao Kele o Puna on Hawaii Island; and saving the 1,875-acre Waimea Valley.

We also haven’t been getting anywhere at the state legislature.  This was one of the first years I can think of that none of the bills in the OHA legislative package passed.  This should be a cause for concern that OHA’s clout at the legislature is waning.

OHA is the only advocate at the legislature for all Native Hawaiian issues, such as water rights, gathering rights, or land rights.  Few organizations have the resources, staff and expertise to speak to legislators on our beneficiaries’ behalf.  If OHA doesn’t do something fast to reverse its shrinking clout at the legislature, caused in no small part by inconsistent decisions and our Administration making decisions for Trustees, we will be in danger of becoming inconsequential, insignificant and insolvent.

There is so much we can do to help our beneficiaries who are suffering under the lack of affordable housing, the high cost of living, lack of fresh local produce, and the continuing degradation of our fragile environment.  We just seem to lack the will to do anything.  I miss the passion and drive that previous Trustees had in years past.  Sure we got into a few scraps with each other, but we got things done and our hearts were always in the right place.  Everything we did was for the benefit of our people.

The Board of Trustees needs new energy

We must not be content with just sitting back and letting the Administration plod along without any direction.  We need to get the fire back in our bellies and go back to doing big things.  If we don’t, we will no longer be relevant to our beneficiaries and the state might decide to get rid of us by transferring all of our assets to the general fund.

So this election, seek change and elect new blood!  Don’t be satisfied with the status quo.  Elect New People!  Electing the same Trustees will not bring any meaningful change to OHA!  Aloha Ke Akua.

Help OHA reach its full potential: Look for Change

`Ano`ai kakou…  As the longest serving Trustee, it saddens me that OHA is no longer the proactive advocate for our beneficiaries that it once was.  When I was first elected to the board in 1990, OHA was at the forefront of many issues involving native rights, housing, education, and health.

Past Trustees were actively involved, spearheading major projects, and holding OHA’s Administration accountable.  Now everything seems, for want of a better term, “stagnant.”  While I’m sure the Board Chair can produce a long list of “great” things happening at OHA, to me it’s just all public relations fluff.  Make no mistake – This is not the OHA of old that used to get results.  I’m sure that every Trustee would agree that OHA could do more for our beneficiaries.  Much more.

So what’s the solution?  It’s simple: Restore the Board’s oversight over the Administration.  Right now, there are only THREE Trustees that are holding the Administration accountable:

  • The Asset & Resource Management Committee Chair, who oversees all of OHA’s fiscal, policy, economic development, land, and administrative matters;
  • The Beneficiary Advocacy & Empowerment Committee Chair, who has responsibility over federal and state legislation, on-going programs in health, housing, and education; and
  • Last, but not least, the Board Chair, who basically just acts as the liaison between the Administration and the Board instead of providing oversight and direction. In fact, the CEO has BANNED Trustees without committees from having direct contact with Administrative staff. All requests for information must go through the Chair’s office.

So basically, the rest of the Trustees have to depend on the three Trustees above for updates and reports at the board table – There are no other opportunities for us to get information.

We could easily increase the amount of Trustees providing oversight over the Administration by going back the five committee system.  Subject matters included (1) Land, (2) Policy & Planning, (3) Program Management, (4) Legislative & Government Affairs, and (5) Budget & Finance.  Bringing back these five committees would instantly double the amount of Trustees overseeing the Administration from three to six.

The increased oversight over the Administration would finally put an end to the frequent complaints by Trustees that they are not being kept in the loop or getting regular updates on important issues.

As many of my long time readers know, this is not a new proposal.  I pushed for this change last year but the current Board Chair decided to go in the opposite direction.  He actually got rid of the Land and Property committee!

OHA is simply too big for three Trustees to control the organization.  And, as a result, crucial information is able to stay hidden.  For example, under the old five committee structure, the Budget & Finance committee chair actually had the time to take our budget out to the community for comments and suggestions.  Every line litem of the budget was presented and none were hidden in “cost centers.”  Nothing could stay hidden in the budget with that much scrutiny.

So this election, seek change and elect new blood!  Ask OHA candidates what they think about how OHA is run.  Question them on their ideas to improve the office and the services we provide.  Vote wisely or we’ll continue to be stuck in the same stagnation for years to come.  Our beneficiaries deserve better!  Aloha Ke Akua.