By: TRUSTEE ROWENA AKANA
Source: December 2007 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column
‘Ano‘ai käkou… It is no secret that OHA has had a staff retention crisis for the past several years – 36 position vacancies this year alone. It seems like all of our most experienced and capable staff have left and gone to DHHL, Kamehameha Schools, and other greener pastures. This has to stop. OHA’s mission is too important and far-reaching to constantly have to start over with new staff. OHA needs to change at a fundamental level, and I say we should start by restoring the most basic ingredient of any relationship — trust. How do we do that? It’s really simple actually.
The leadership needs to rethink its current security procedures. Each OHA staff person will soon be given individual ID cards that could potentially track him or her as they enter and leave any OHA workspace. Heaven help you if you enter a trustee’s office without permission! All OHA staff members have also been fingerprinted to authenticate that they are indeed the person signing into and out of work. Everyone knows it is their managers’ responsibility to make sure that their staff members are reporting to work on time. The finger printing system only proves that there has been a failure at OHA’s management level. The message that the current leadership is sending our staff is this – “We don’t trust any of you, just like we don’t trust some of the trustees.” My question continues to be, “What could they possibly be doing to make themselves so paranoid that they don’t even trust their own staff or fellow trustees (other than 2 or 3 “inner circle” trustees).” OHA can now be likened to a “lockdown” security compound.
If you want people to be trustworthy, you should first give them your trust. As the administrator himself has said in the past, “we are all family.” I agree with that wholeheartedly and I truly wish that this will eventually occur. Unfortunately, the lack of trust reveals that, at present, we are a very dysfunctional family.
Currently, all OHA staff is discouraged from speaking with a trustee directly and all written communications must go through the administrator first. This causes trustees to wait for up to 3-4 months to get any requested fiscal information. All of the trustees are also beneficiaries who should never be denied access to OHA personnel or be forced to wait so long for an answer.
About Trust: The board leadership has passed a new policy that forces a trustee to get the permission of all nine trustees to release or discuss any information shared in executive session. Our old policy allowed a majority (5) of trustees to release any confidential information if it is appropriate. This bylaw has served OHA without incident for the past 27 years. The sudden change makes me wonder, “What is the current Chairperson doing that she fears is not pono?” The new bylaw goes against basic trust law. For example, a trustee would not be able to say anything if other trustees are making bad decisions behind the closed doors of executive session. Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) 554A-6 requires a dissenting trustee to express their opposition or they would be liable for any damages caused by the co-trustees’ decisions. How can a trustee do that if he or she is gagged by the new policy?
Case in point, at our last Board meeting on Lanai, the Chair’s agenda listed two items to be discussed in executive session using HRS 92-5(a)(4): “Agenda Item VI., B. Legal Advisory by Board Counsel and Deputy Administrator regarding the board’s responsibilities and obligations under OHA Contract #1820 with Zell and Cox, Law, P.C. to ensure the provision of continued legal services to OHA.” and “Agenda Item VI., C. Legal Advisory by Board Counsel and Deputy Administrator regarding the board’s responsibilities and obligations under OHA Contract #1612 with Patton Boggs, LLC to ensure the provision of continued legal services to OHA.” There was a discussion on these confidential matters, but then a motion to renew the two contracts with “x” amount of dollars, etc. was suddenly proposed. Trustees were not given a copy of the motion in advance and an action item for this matter should have been included in the Trustees’ folders. This should have been taken up in open session because contracts are not confidential. But if that were done in an open session, then beneficiaries would know how much is being spent on our lobbying efforts. This should not be a secret. Everyone knows the board is supporting federal recognition legislation.
This is the 4th time that this board has used the HRS 92-5(a)(4) executive session law to keep an action secret. No materials regarding the action are provided to trustees ahead of time and they are instead presented on a chalkboard or in a slide show. Then the vote is called. This way, there is no paper trail of the action and the executive session minutes are not released to anyone.
While I recognize that certain parts of our records must remain confidential because of privacy issues, etc., there is no need to keep our entire discussion confidential. We should consider ideas like blackening out the confidential information and releasing the non-confidential portion of our documents to the public, just like the federal government does. Building a nation will require elected leaders to be forthright and strong, fair and transparent. Who will have faith in a nation being built by people hiding behind the law and afraid to tell the people the truth about what they are doing?
I would like to stress that I am not against spending our funds to lobby for the passage of federal recognition. At present, being federally recognized is the best way to protect our assets and future entitlements from lawsuits. What I do object to is the secretive process that the leadership is using, which is neither upfront nor forthright. As a trustee for OHA, it is my fiduciary responsibility to know exactly how much of the trust is being spent and for what purpose. It is a responsibility I take seriously and I will continue my inquires until I can finally get straight answers.
In my opinion, the responsibility for this huge mess rests squarely on the current Chairman’s shoulders. There is absolutely no way for a dissenting trustee to have any impact at board meetings. It all started five years ago when she combined the five subject matter committees into only two, thus eliminating three committee chairmen and leaving the remaining two committees under the control of her two most trusted trustees, thereby consolidating her power. After gaining total control over the board committees, she started using legal opinions to help her enforce her will at the board table to justify her actions and give her almost absolute control over all board discussions and stifling any dissenting views of other trustees and even certain beneficiaries.
Some, may consider these actions clever. But is it?
“For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known.”