By: OHA TRUSTEE ROWENA AKANA
Source: July 2010 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Monthly Column
Chair Apoliona goes out of her way to exclude trustees from board discussions. For example:
DUE DILIGENCE MEETINGS
Back in April, the SEC brought a civil action against Goldman Sachs, one of OHA’s two money managers, because of “a single transaction in 2007 involving two professional institutional investors.” Goldman assured us that they believe the SEC’s allegations were “completely unfounded both in law and fact,” and that they would vigorously defend themselves. Every trustee had reason to be deeply concerned since, as of December 31, 2009, Goldman managed $171,649,375 of OHA’s Trust Fund.
On April 20, 2010, Goldman invited OHA to meet with them in New York on May 7, 2010 for an explanation. Chairperson Apoliona, Trustees Machado and Stender, and CEO Namuo traveled to New York for the meeting. I did not submit a request to travel so I don’t know if the Chair denied travel for anyone else.
On April 21, 2010, Goldman offered to provide Trustees that could not attend the New York meeting with a “live video conference feed” from their office to our boardroom. This would allow all of us to at least listen in on the Goldman meeting.
Then suddenly, on April 23, 2010, the OHA Board Counsel cancelled the Goldman videoconference, most likely at the request of the Chairperson. At the request of Trustee Heen, the Board Counsel wrote a legal opinion to explain his position. The Board Counsel felt that, since Goldman refused to allow the video conference to be viewed by the public in an open meeting, OHA would end up breaking the Sunshine Law. Since none of the trustees I have spoken to have actually seen any communication from Goldman Sachs objecting to an open meeting, I am not convinced that there was such a communication.
There were other ways to allow the trustees to listen in and still stay within the law. For example, we could have gone into executive session during the “sensitive” portions of the broadcast. While it wouldn’t have been the most ideal solution, Chair Apoliona has shown in the past that she has no problems taking things into executive session, even when it is not necessary except to keep the public from hearing what is going on.
It is clear to me that this was just a deliberate attempt to keep the majority of the board from hearing what Goldman had to say. At the time of the writing of this article, there has been NO report to the Board of Trustees from Trustees Apoliona, Stender, or Machado regarding their New York meeting.
Another example of Chair Apoliona’s selective denial happened back in 2008, when, without even the proper authority, Apoliona denied my travel to South Dakota on official business as a board member of the Governors’ Interstate Indian Council (GIIC). I am the only non-Indian member of this national organization representing Native Americans and Alaska Natives in all 50 states. The GIIC has supported OHA’s efforts for federal recognition with five resolutions that have been sent to Congress on our behalf.
On May 4, 2010, the Board Counsel wrote another legal opinion about his decision to deny a Trustee from participating in a Board Workshop on April 22, 2010 by telephone. The Trustee had been told by the Administration that it wouldn’t be a problem for him to participate over a speaker phone, but that decision was overruled by the Board Counsel, which went against OHA’s longstanding practice of allowing participation via telephone as long as the Trustee did not vote.
KAMEHAMEHA LEI DRAPING CEREMONY
On April 26, 2010, each Trustee received an invitation letter from the Hawai`i State Society of Washington, D.C. to participate in the 2010 Kamehameha Lei draping ceremonies on June 6, 2010. Trustees have supported and attended the ceremony since 2003; including the historic first ceremony in Emancipation Hall at the new Capitol Visitors Center in 2009. Despite this, on May 3, 2010, the Chairperson denied travel for all Trustees except for herself and OHA staff members CEO Namuo, COO Stanton Enomoto, and Special Assistant to the CEO Martha Ross.
Meetings were scheduled by the Administration to meet with Federal Officials while in Washington, D.C. – meetings that the Trustees should have attended. This has become a common practice with this Chair. Despite this denial, I elected to pay my own way to Washington, D.C. as I had an important meeting scheduled at the White House.
Chairperson Apoliona must stop interfering with our right to represent the beneficiaries that elected us. Sadly, this has been going on for the last eight years.
OTHER NOTABLE ISSUES: QUESTIONABLE SPENDING
In a May 3rd e-mail to the Trustees, Chair Apoliona explained that she was denying travel for the 2010 Kamehameha Lei draping in D.C. on June 6th, because of economic reasons, not mentioning that there were also important meetings scheduled with Federal Officials that Trustees should have attended. Chair Apoliona wrote:
“Since 2009 Trustees have been asked to limit requests for out of state travel due to our downturn in the economy and the impact on OHA resources. Although there is demonstration of what appears to be an ‘improving’ economy, we all continue to be vigilant and cautious.” “…even in 2010 we should remain cautious about out of state travel costs and continue to manage out-of-State travel requests prudently.” — OHA Chair Haunani Apoliona
However, the Chair failed to mention that while she was denying Trustees’ travel, three OHA staff members went instead of Trustees. While in D.C., OHA paid for a reception for 200 people, including entertainment. How much did this cost our beneficiaries? What about the “downturn in the economy?”
While I understand her reasons for being “cautious” with our spending during this economic downturn, a quick review of OHA’s recent spending shows that she is at worse a hypocrite and, at best, full of baloney. For example, at a time when our people are living homeless on beaches, OHA authorized spending the following on June 3, 2010:
- $100,000 to sponsor a Native Hawaiian men’s health conference in June 2010; and
- $100,000 to sponsor an International Indigenous Health Conference. There was no mention of how many Hawaiians were going to be able to attend this Conference.
The Administration also proposed to transfer $421,300 in education grant money to fund a “Continent Community Education” program in Hi’ilei Aloha LLC, a nonprofit that currently manages Waimea Valley. This program would have given OHA funds to an organization outside of the Trustee’s direct oversight. Hi’ilei Aloha would then determine who gets to travel to the mainland to educate people about the Akaka bill. My guess is that her relative, who now works with Hi’ilei Aloha, would be doing most of the traveling, since that was the case when she worked for OHA. This highly questionable proposal was quickly scuttled after several trustees and I brought up serious concerns at the board table, specifically that this private organization would in fact end up doing the work that OHA Trustees are charged to do.
OHA TOO TOP-HEAVY?
Just about five years ago, OHA’s budget was around $23 million. Today, OHA’s budget has ballooned to $42,107,095. A whopping $12,320,998 is spent on salaries and benefits. Another $7,541,655 is spent on work that is contracted outside of OHA. Only $1,410,130 is spent on OHA programs to assist our beneficiaries! What’s up with that?
FALLING THROUGH THE CRACKS
I have always said that OHA’s two committee system allows too many important issues to slip through the cracks. The system was put into place by Chair Apoliona to consolidate her control over the Board of Trustees. Since the two committee chairs have to oversee every function of the Board, there are just too many issues for each committee chair to consider and a lot of important issues fall through the cracks. Things are so bad now that almost nothing is being done by the committees.
The Asset and Resource Management (ARM), chaired by Trustee Stender, meets only twice a month (if there are no sudden cancellations), despite the huge swings in the stock market and the volatile nature of the world economy. Also, the ARM committee is responsible for evaluating OHA programs and deciding whether to continue, modify, or terminate their funding, but this has not occurred for the past several years. The State Auditor’s recent report will back this up.
In the past year, the ARM committee has cancelled or rescheduled many meetings, reducing the number of meetings we have in a month. For example:
- The August 5, 2009 and September 2, 2009 ARM Committee Meetings were cancelled.
- The September 23, 2009 meeting was rescheduled to September 22, 2009. Since there was no quorum for the September 22, 2009 meeting, it was postponed.
- The ARM Committee meeting scheduled for May 12, 2010 was cancelled. There were no ARM meetings in all of May 2010.
Since Trustee Stender has chaired the ARM committee, OHA has not taken its budget out into the community as required by law.
The Beneficiary Advocacy and Empowerment (BAE) committee, Chaired by Trustee Colette Machado, is responsible for developing programs which focus on beneficiary health, human services, native rights and education and evaluate all OHA programs to ensure a positive impact on our beneficiaries. Not only has the BAE Chair failed to develop any new programs, she is actually trying to eliminate them. Just ask members of the Native Hawaiian Historic Preservation Council (NHHPC). In fact, since Chairperson Apoliona has chaired the Board and Trustees Machado and Stender have chaired the two Committees, virtually all OHA programs have been discontinued.
Another byproduct of this system is that the active participation of the six other trustees has been cut-off. The only thing that the other Trustees get to do is vote on whatever is being brought to the board or committee table. In the past, the five committee system gave the majority of the trustees the responsibility of running a committee. Today, I believe that the saddest result of the two committee system is that several of the trustees have become apathetic. They aren’t as interested in board affairs since they are not consulted about any subject matters prior to a meeting. Chair Apoliona has also acquiesced trustees’ power to the CEO, which further exacerbates the problem.
Chair Apoliona always likes to say that OHA has never been better. There is no truth to that statement. There was a time when Trustees were passionate about the issues near and dear to their hearts; worked tirelessly to improve the lives of our beneficiaries; and when the moral of our employees were at its best. Let us look for change in the November elections. Aloha pumehana.