Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely

`Ano`ai kakou…  As a senior Trustee, I have managed to live through some very difficult times within the walls of OHA over the past 23-and-a-half years.  As Trustee and staff members come and go, it never fails to amaze me about how they both come into our institution thinking that OHA began with them and they try to re-invent the wheel.  They didn’t bother to learn OHA’s history and the difficult ground we had to cover over the past 30-years to be where we are today.


Like other political offices, when some Trustees take over the power structure here, they manage to bring their “own” people into the organization and place them in strategic places throughout our offices, like the fiscal department, the legal office, and so on.  Consequently, even when they are no longer in the “driver’s seat,” they can still control the board through these staff.  This has become a debilitating factor for OHA Trustees who want to do their best to manage the Trust since these staff members who are loyal to just a few Trustees can put up stiff opposition almost at every turn.

Now, we can’t write anything specific about what goes on within the offices of OHA.  A Trustee is prevented from printing their columns in our newspaper because OHA’s “legal eager beavers,” who want to please those who keep them employed here, will find every excuse to stifle a Trustee and prevent them from talking about things that go on here.

OHA’s leadership will also go so far as to pass a specific policy to stop certain Trustees from calling attention to something they don’t want the public to know.  The kicker is, in my opinion, those rules are made up by lawyers who work for us, but are loyal to only a few Trustees.  This strategy works against Trustees in the minority who usually do not agree with the power structure.

Another trick is to put items on the agenda in an executive session instead of open session, thereby excluding the general public from listening to the discussion.  If this isn’t enough, they further silence the Trustees by telling them that they can’t speak about what was discussed, and then they lock-up the minutes, so that even the Trustees do not have ready access to them.

Even when a super majority of six Trustees vote and approve a money appropriation, the staff members are prevented from acting on the action because they are being instructed to throw up road blocks and make excuses to slow the process or prevent it from happening at all.

For a very long time now, OHA has not been able to really function as a Trust.  It has become a political entity, where power is more important than fulfilling our mission to better the conditions of OHA beneficiaries.  You might say OHA looks more and more like the dysfunctional Congress.

Until the public elects people to the board who truly want to serve OHA’s mission and who have the best interests of the Trust and our beneficiaries in their heart, OHA will continue to function at half-speed instead of full-speed ahead.

OHA Trustees need to be more involved


Source: January 2009 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

`Ano`ai kakou…  Happy Year of the Ox!  A fellow trustee recently asked me if the tone of my monthly message would change since OHA’s leadership remains exactly the same as it was before this past November’s election.  I will always continue to do what I have always done, which is tell the truth, keep our beneficiaries informed, and fight for what is right.  However, in this New Year, I continue to hope that there will be changes at OHA to make things better here for everyone.

Make no mistake – OHA’s problems have not simply vanished.  The challenges to our administration and to our trustees impact all of us.  The change we were all hoping for will not occur unless both trustees and administrative staff find a way to work together.

The biggest problem is that the majority of trustees are severely underutilized.  The current two committee system allows Chair Apoliona to ignore trustees that disagree with her and it encourages other trustees to simply coast by and basically do nothing but show up to vote for her agenda.  No trustee can refute this point.  Despite the many requests by Trustees and our beneficiaries, OHA meetings are not televised like the City Council and the state legislature on Olelo with minimal cost.  If OHA meetings were televised, the general public and our beneficiaries would be able to judge for themselves how things are going.

I believe that being a trustee is not about having a fancy title and simply showing up at few monthly meetings.  It’s about proactively working for the benefit of our people.  With the many emergencies we face, our beneficiaries cannot afford to have any passive trustees.

Instead of being a proactive agency with a variety of programs to help our beneficiaries, OHA now operates like a charitable foundation that just hands out grants.  While the grants do go to worthy causes, I can’t help but feel that OHA is just passing the buck.  I’m not saying that OHA should or could do everything, but I do believe that OHA can do much more for our beneficiaries in terms of programs and services.

The problem with simply handing out grants is that you can’t deal with long-term problems and the grant monies eventually run out and services get cut.  That’s why we need on-going OHA programs monitored by the trustees.  Many of our people are forced to live on the beach because of the lack of affordable houses and rentals.  OHA has been talking for years about helping our homeless beneficiaries get into shelters and transitional housing.  When is something meaningful going to happen?

We have nine trustees with an incredible amount of combined talents and experiences.  We also have over a hundred staff members who are eager to make a difference.  But without proactive leadership, nothing will ever get done.

There used to be five committees – Land, Policy & Planning, Program Management, Legislative & Government Affairs, and Budget & Finance – however, the current leadership consolidated the five committees into just two committees, which eliminates three committee chair positions for trustees.  This is the most ineffective committee structure I have served under. 

Currently, Trustee Stender oversees all of OHA’s fiscal, policy, economic development, and administrative matters.  Trustee Collette Machado has responsibility over all federal and state legislation, on-going programs in health, housing, education, land, the Native Hawaiian Revolving Loan Fund, and then some. 

These two committees were not created to foster efficiency, but to concentrate power.  The consequence of this is that the two committees’ chairs have too much on their plate and are clearly overwhelmed.  For example, the money committee only meets once or twice to hear updates from our money managers.  Under the five committee structure, the money committee chair actually had the time to take our budget out to the community for comments and suggestions.  Also, our programs committee only meets to discuss legislation and approve grants.  Are we just going to continue throwing money at our problems?  When are we going to take a leadership position on issues such as health and housing and get things done?  Our beneficiaries deserve better.

Developing good programs won’t be quick or easy, but they will do much more to serve the needs of our beneficiaries over the long haul.  Setting priorities and developing a plan to meet those priorities is desperately needed at OHA.  This should be our goal for 2009, despite the fact that the Chairperson used her Investiture speech to preach doom & gloom and even managed to take credit for the establishment of Kuleana Land property tax breaks on Oahu, the Big Island and Kauai, which she had nothing to do with.  I pray, that the New Year will bring constructive and meaningful change, even though the Board remains unchanged after the November election.  It is my hope that we will no longer focused on political paybacks and to get down to work.  Aloha Ke Akua.