Programs need to be self-sufficient


Source: September 2008 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

`Ano`ai kakou…  OHA gets millions from the state general fund each year, which OHA matches through trust fund dollars, which totaled about $2.8 million in 2005.  Most of these funds goes to three nonprofit organizations that benefit Native Hawaiians — Na Pua No’eau, the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation (NHLC) and Alu Like.  In 2005, Na Pua No’eau received about $700,000 of its $1.5 million budget from OHA.  Roughly $600,000 went to the NHLC, which represented more than half of its operating budget.  In 2006, OHA earmarked $750,000 toward Alu Like programs.  All of these amounts do not include separate grants, contracts, and programs funded by OHA that are outside of these organizations’ budgeted appropriations.

While I applaud the mission of these organizations and the dedication of their employees to better the conditions of Native Hawaiians, OHA does not have the resources to fund these programs indefinitely.  Add to that the fact that our economy is slowing and OHA’s Native Hawaiian Trust Fund portfolio has fallen to approximately $375 million (as of June 30, 2008) and the outlook seems even more doubtful.

Given these tough economic times, OHA needs to find a way to help these organizations become more self-sufficient and less of a drain on our budget.  Some organizations, such as the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation, should be completely eliminated from our budget.  Funds allocated for legal representation for our beneficiaries should be given to more than one firm so that they may get the best representation they can.

Despite our generous assistance to NHLC over the years, we are constantly hearing complaints from the community regarding NHLC’s treatment of our beneficiaries and the quality of their customer service.  Things have gotten so bad lately, that it now seems as if a beneficiary is appearing at almost every meeting to complain about the way NHLC has treated them. 

OHA has even been forced to set-up a special fund to handle cases that were rejected by the NHLC, which we call our “conflict fund.”  However, in order to qualify for these funds, our beneficiaries have to go through the bureaucratic hassled of first getting a letter from NHLC stating that they cannot take the case.  Unfortunately, NHLC seems to be dragging their feet on getting these letters out.  For example, one beneficiary claimed that NHLC refused, despite repeated requests, to give them a letter stating they could not represent them because of a conflict of interest.

In another case, a beneficiary in Hilo claimed that NHLC dropped their case at the eleventh-hour.  This forced the beneficiary to scramble and find other assistance in order to save her case.  There are also several beneficiaries who have reported that NHLC has not responded to them regarding the status of their cases, even after years have gone by.  It seems as if the NHLC is keeping certain cases “ongoing” so they can keep them on their books to justify additional funding.

Several trustees have also brought up concerns that the NHLC’s lawsuits against the Department of Hawaiian Homelands (DHHL) on the island of Hawaii will have detrimental affects on OHA’s ability to develop affordable housing.  Currently, NHLC is trying to stop DHHL from leasing out lands in order to generate revenue through several lawsuits.  Clearly, they are not looking at the larger picture – how can DHHL operate and assist their beneficiaries without more revenue?  All the lawsuits are doing is creating a negative sense in the community at-large that “Hawaiians are suing Hawaiians.”

Clearly, if NHLC wants OHA to continue finding their organization, they must conduct a major overhaul.  Our administrator has also suggested that they send a report on their caseload to OHA on a weekly or bi-monthly basis so that we are no longer blindsided at the board table.  I would require that their continued funding depends on it.

Employee Exodus to Date for 2008

On August 8, 2008, our Chief Financial Officer (CFO), a senior officer in OHA’s administration, resigned from his position effective October 8, 2008.  So for those trustees who insist on taking a Pollyanna attitude and insist everything is OK, I would like to remind them of the glaring fact that in the last six-months, OHA’s fiscal department has lost: (1) an accountant, who wrote a letter to trustees saying she felt she was unfairly terminated; (2) our Comptroller, who moved to another state, and (3) our CFO, who left while OHA is in the midst of an audit and finishing up our upcoming total operating budget.

In total, there have been at least six staff members who have left OHA by choice or otherwise this year.

Taking the High Road


Source: April 2008 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

‘Ano‘ai käkou… I would like to take a moment to pay tribute to the beloved Aunty Genoa Keawe, a genuinely warm and gentle person that was truly one of Hawai‘i’s greatest treasures. All of Hawai‘i wishes you Godspeed.


Since my December KWO column about the mass exodus of OHA employees, the “lock-down” security measures taken by the leadership to track employee whereabouts, and the low morale, etc., I have been locked in a war of words with Chairperson Apoliona’s chief of staff, Mrs. Winona Rubin, who placed a full-page ad in our January issue of the OHA newspaper trying to negate my comments. The ad was so ridiculous that I chose to answer it with a full-page ad of my own in the February issue (that many people said they never received through the mail) that went directly to the heart of my accusations. I asked Mrs. Rubin to explain the following: 

  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can explain in detail, the expenses for legal advice from attorneys who have not been able to deliver in any success in moving federal legislation forward.
  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can justify why there was no evaluation done on their performance before extending their contract for the past three years?
  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can justify all of the millions of trust dollars spent on our Kau Inoa registration done on the mainland where OHA spent money on nonprofit groups and others to sign up people, and paid for each person they signed up. There has been no accurate account distributed to OHA Trustees who have requested this information, estimated to be about $10 a signature for mainland registrations, which cannot possibly justify the millions of dollars that we have spent trying to collect those signatures.
  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can explain why for the past two years more effort has been spent getting signatures on the continent instead of focusing on Hawai‘i, where 80 percent of the Hawaiian population reside.
  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can explain why Haunani Apoliona’s sister has been put in charge of the mainland registrations and flying first class each time.
  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can explain how Chairperson Apoliona’s sister received a charge card from OHA and accumulated $10,000 in charges before the card was taken away.
  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can explain how, when the charge card was taken away from the Chair’s sister, she continued to charge expenses for travel, receptions and various other charges on her personal charge account, then was allowed to submit for reimbursement for those charges even though in some instances she had no receipts.
  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can explain why this employee was not fired for these egregious actions. If she were not the Chair’s sister, would she have been fired?

Instead of a serious response, Mrs. Rubin chose to place another childlike and amateurish ad in the March issue of the Ka Wai Ola which was filled with colorful cartoons. Her ad also misleadingly displayed the OHA logo and implies that OHA sanctioned the ad. Mrs. Rubin has, to this day, never seriously addressed any of the concerns I raised. It is because of her adolescent attitude that I decided to take the high road and not dignify her ad with another response. However, I remain steadfast in my convictions that OHA has some serious internal problems that need to be addressed.

I was also surprised that Trustee Walter Heen devoted his entire February column in the Ka Wai Ola to justify how OHA awards grants to organizations that really shouldn’t be getting them. OHA has been subsidizing the state Department of Education with educational programs since 1993, even though they already receive more than half of the state budget. We need to be advocating for our beneficiaries as state law requires. It’s time we made the DOE accountable for their neglect of their kuleana.

Heen also disagrees with my claim that certain nonprofits are savvier and better staffed than Native Hawaiian nonprofits and therefore are able to capture more OHA grants. I see the same organizations coming back to OHA for money year after year, while small nonprofits are left behind. I believe as the senior member of the Board, serving 18 consecutive years, I have the historical and institutional memory that can bear my comments out. 

On Jan. 18, 2008, OHA’s leadership and the governor announced that they had reached a $200 million settlement to our dispute with the state over ceded land revenues that remained to be paid to OHA from 1978 to 2008. 

I raised several questions with our leadership regarding OHA’s proposed legislation to remove sections 4, 5 and 6 from Article XII of the state Constitution, which spoke to OHA’s 20 percent pro rata share of ceded land revenues and rights to natural resources and minerals, and replacing the language with a guarantee of at least $15.1 million going forward into the future. 

I also asked if this meant that we would lose all rights to minerals and natural resources in the future. The answer was NO??? But if you read the committee report for the settlement bill, HB 266 HD2, it specifically provides that the property conveyed by the bill to OHA does NOT include the minerals or surface or ground water rights! The state retains all of these rights!!!

I also brought up inflation and whether $15.1 million would be sufficient even five years from now? As the U.S. dollar continues to decline, what will a dollar really be worth? While OHA’s attorneys have tried to assure us that this is an OK deal, there has been no real explanation for not factoring in inflation to the $15.1 million going forward or the fact that the leases of ceded lands will be re-evaluated over time.

The fact that this is an election year for Chair Apoliona leads me to believe that this settlement agreement is being rushed through the Legislature in an attempt to give her a “leg up” for her upcoming re-election. It finally took the Legislature passing a concurrent resolution to force OHA to take the agreement out into the community for public input. Otherwise, it would have only been decided by OHA’s leadership, the governor’s administration and the Legislature. I believe that there is still time to let your legislators know your mana‘o regarding the settlement bill.


  • As I write this column, OHA’s division officer in charge of grants has suddenly quit without a reason being given and without even a goodbye.  Oddly enough, Trustees Apoliona and Stender seemed happy about the change.


  • I am currently investigating widespread reports from beneficiaries that they have not received their February issue of the Ka Wai Ola. Please call my office at 594-1860 if you have not received your copy and I will have one sent to you right away. This issue contains my controversial column that is critical of OHA’s settlement deal with the state, which may be seen as threatening to the passage of OHA’s settlement bill.
  • Beneficiaries have informed me that their letters to the Ka Wai Ola editor that criticized Mrs. Rubin for her negative ads were not published. While this is of no surprise to me, it is a confirmation that only what the leadership wants published gets published.

These tireless game being played by OHA’s leadership may delay information flowing from our office to the beneficiaries, but the truth will always come out in the end. And as time goes by, it only reaffirms the comments I made in my December ’07 column about the excessive security, “lock-down” mentality and why there continues to be an exodus of OHA personnel.

Nothing but excuses…


Source: February 2008 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

`Ano`ai kakou…  As those of you who read my columns religiously are aware, because of the article I wrote in December of 2007 criticizing the OHA Chairperson Haunani Apoliona’s leadership of OHA, I was pressured by five of my colleagues to resign as vice-chair of the budget committee.

The other thing that occurred was a paid article written by Mrs. Winona Rubin in our January 2008 Ka Wai Ola newspaper in which she tried to discredit my criticisms.  While I could go down the list of her ridiculous excuses and disqualify and negate everything that she said, it would only end up being a waste of your time.  Let me simply say that Mrs. Rubin is in a great deal of conflict of interest and everything that she said in her ad should be looked at in that light.

First off, Mrs. Rubin is the chief-of-staff for Chairperson Apoliona.  Before that, she was her administrative aide.  Before that, she was her boss at Alu Like, Inc.  They have had a very close relationship for over 30 years.  Her biased opinion should be viewed as just that, biased.

What I would like to know is why Haunani Apoliona cannot speak for herself.  After all, I personally hold her responsible for all of the turmoil that is going on inside of OHA: the Low morale, turn-over of employees, favoritism, nepotism, and distrust among employees.  Mrs. Rubin should stop embarrassing herself with her poor excuses and provide all of us with real answers.

  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can explain, in detail, the expenses thus far for the legal advice from the attorneys we hired who have not been able to deliver in any success in moving our federal legislation forward.
  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can justify why there was no evaluation of their performance before Chairperson Apoliona recommended that their contract be extended for a third time.
  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can justify all of the millions of dollars spent on the continent for Kau Inoa registrations, done by non profits and others, to register Hawaiians and paid as much as $10.00 for each application.
  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can explain why, for the past two years, more effort has been spent getting signatures on the continent instead of focusing on our own state where 80% of the Hawaiian population resides.
  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can explain why Chairperson Apoliona’s sister has been put in charge of mainland registrations and flies first-class each time she travels.
  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can explain how Chairperson Apoliona’s sister was able to obtain an OHA charge card for $10,000 when not even Trustees have charge cards.
  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can explain why, when Chairperson Apoliona’s sister maxed out the charge card, she was allowed to continue making purchases with her own credit card and have OHA reimburse her in the 5 figure range and still counting for hotel, air fare, receptions, car rentals, etc., even when in some instances there were no receipts, and in some cases the travel was not authorized.
  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can explain why Chairperson Apoliona’s sister was not fired for these egregious actions using Native Hawaiian Trust Funds.  Would she have been fired if she were not the Chairperson’s sister?
  • To date, no grand total of expenditures have been given to Trustees regarding the Kau Inoa registrations, or the total amount OHA spent on Federal legislation.

Finally, if Mrs. Rubin wants positive things to occur at OHA in 2008 she needs to begin with addressing some of more pressing internal issues within OHA and be honest in her assessment and not blinded by conflicts of interest.

It’s a matter of trust…


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?

Mathew 10:26

“For there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known.”