NOTE: This op-ed was originally printed in the Honolulu Star Advertiser on February 25, 2018
In January 2017, as then-chairwoman of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs’ board of trustees, I and four other trustees offered OHA CEO Kamana‘opono Crabbe a buyout of his contract so that we could have a fresh start with a new CEO and correct many of the issues that have now been revealed by the state auditor.
However, three trustees fought us hard: Colette Machado, Bob Lindsey and Dan Ahuna went above and beyond to protect the CEO. They all refused to deal with the problems plaguing OHA and lacked the political will to make the necessary changes.
Over the past few years, OHA has had a problem with a mass exodus of administrative staff. Whole divisions were gutted and we lost our most capable and experienced staff.
Several of these employees confided in trustees they trusted and shared their horror stories of unqualified managers, friends of the CEO, who flagrantly disregarded policies and procedures. When they brought up their concerns, they were threatened, bullied and reprimanded. Most of them left for greener pastures.
There were always at least a few grant applicants who complained to trustees about the application process during every grant-giving cycle. They sent us emails and personally testified at the board table about the unfairness of the whole process. Many of them said their grants were denied based on technicalities. And yet, at the same time, many of the organizations that received grants were not properly evaluated on their deliverables. Many of the institutions that did receive grants had some sort of personal connection to the CEO. Beneficiaries constantly urged the trustees to do something, but the trustees in power believed the CEO was doing a good job and ignored the complaints.
In February 2017, I was removed as the board chairwoman because, I believe, of the sweeping changes I intended to make within the organization. The efforts to reform OHA came to a halt and things went back to the status quo when Machado was chosen as my replacement, and the CEO was back in business.
At the time of my ouster, I warned OHA’s new leadership that one cannot hide the truth, that it was only a matter of time before the public found out about what was really going on here. I believe the recent state auditor’s report says it all.
A year has passed since the new faction took over and, as predicted, nothing has changed.
Further, legislative measures such as Senate Bill 1303, which calls for amendments to the OHA election process, are dangerous because many of the reform-minded trustees calling for fiscal responsibility, such as Trustees Hulu Lindsey, John Waihee IV and myself are up for re-election this year. SB1303 specifically targets our races. Those who want to maintain the status quo are hoping that the new voting format will help them knock us out of office. Proponents of the bill say they want a head-to-head race with the three at-large candidates, but this already happens in the primary election. Six candidates will move on to the general election for three seats.