Looking forward to a new year

Happy Year of the Rooster!  I would like to offer my warmest Aloha to Trustee Haunani Apoliona who left OHA after 20-years of service to our beneficiaries.  We may have had our share of differences in the past two decades but I never doubted the commitment of Trustee Apoliona or her dedicated staff, Reynold Freitas and Louise Yee-Hoy, to serving our Native Hawaiian beneficiaries.  I wish them all a fond farewell and best wishes on their future endeavors.

I would also like to congratulate newly elected OHA Trustee William Keli’i Akina and welcome him to the Board of Trustees.  He shares my passion to make OHA fiscally sustainable and I look forward to working with him to fulfill OHA’s mission to better the conditions of Native Hawaiians.

Hope for change

A new year brings new hope that OHA can finally make the changes it needs to improve its overall effectiveness.  Some of the areas we can focus on include:

  • Getting OHA back in touch with the “Big Picture.” We must refocus our Administrative Staff towards areas that our beneficiaries feel matter the most such as health and housing.
  • OHA needs to move towards a merit-based system that relies more on what you know instead of who you know. Loyalty alone should not determine who gets to be the highest paid and promoted employees.  Those who actually know things must be included in decision making process.
  • OHA needs to revisit its policies and rules. In the past 5 to 6 years we have tied our own hands with rules that hamper our efforts to help our beneficiaries.  We need to find a more efficient way to run our essential programs such as community grants.  In 2017, we must re-evaluate what we have been doing and where we should be going.
  • OHA needs to allow some amount of criticism to enter our discussions about how we operate. A Trustees or staff member that points out a problem should not be seen as some sort of threat or obstacle.  No one should be afraid of sharing their ideas or intimidated into keeping quiet.
  • Cooperation between Trustees and the Administration should be encouraged. Current communication protocols forbid Trustees from directly contacting Administrative Staff and Managers.  All communications must go through a process that is inefficient and discourages collaborative work.  This needs to change.

It will take dedication and a commitment by Trustees to transform OHA back into the effective agency it once was.  We need to serve our beneficiaries with a purpose that will produce meaningful results in all aspects of their lives.  Somewhere along the way we lost sight of what a Trust is and its true purpose has been pushed aside.  Our goal for 2017 should be to return our focus back to our beneficiaries.

I would like to wish my fellow Trustees and all of our beneficiaries a very safe and Happy New Year!  Aloha Ke Akua.

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.

My hope for change at OHA and the legislature

February 2011 KA WAI OLA COLUMN

`Ano`ai kakou…  Happy Year of the Rabbit!  I would like to wish newly-elected OHA Chairperson Colette Machado the best in 2011.  Colette has a strong community and grass-roots background and I am hopeful that she will take the Board of Trustees in this direction.

In this New Year, I continue to hope that there will be changes at OHA to make things better here for everyone.


I believe that being a trustee is not about simply showing up at a few monthly meetings.  OHA cannot afford to maintain a
system which encourages passive trustees, as we have experienced in the past.

Currently, there are only two subject-matter committees under the Board of Trustees: (1) Trustee Oswald Stender oversees all of OHA’s fiscal, policy, economic development, and administrative matters, and (2) Trustee John Waihe’e IV, for the first time in 9 years, has responsibility over all federal and state legislation, on-going programs in health, housing, education, land, and the
Native Hawaiian Revolving Loan Fund.

The problem is that each committee is too broad in scope and can easily become overwhelmed.  I’m hopeful that Trustees Stender and Waihe’e will form “Ad Hoc” sub-committees to allow other Trustees to concentrate on more specific issues such as land, policy & planning, program management, legislative & government affairs, and budget & finance.  Creating sub-committees will get more Trustees actively involved and ensure less things “fall through the cracks.”


Today, OHA mostly operates like a charitable foundation that hands out grants.  Most of the successful OHA-run programs, like
Aha ‘Opio and Aha Kupuna, which took years of hard work by past trustees to develop, have been contracted out or quietly discontinued.  While farming work out to nonprofits is appropriate in some cases, I believe OHA has gone too far.

I believe that OHA should do much more for our beneficiaries in terms of programs and services.  Grants are ineffective in solving long-term problems since grant monies eventually run out.  Even successful services end up getting cut if they can’t raise any money.  That’s why we need on-going OHA programs that are closely monitored by the trustees.


Despite many requests, OHA meetings are not televised like the City Council or the State Legislature.  Cost has always been an issue, but with today’s technology, it shouldn’t cost that much – Olelo and YouTube are free!  Broadcasting our meetings would make Trustees more accessible and keep us honest.


Congratulations to newly–appointed Big Island State Senator Malama Solomon, who previously served as an OHA Trustee and State Senator.  Now, with Senator Clayton Hee, OHA has two former trustees it can count on in the Senate.

We will certainly need their help to finally resolve the claims relating to OHA’s portion of income from the public land trust between 11/7/1978 and 7/1/2009.  In the 2009, Senator Hee introduced Senate Bill 995, which offered OHA $251 million in cash and 20 percent of the 1.8 million acres of ceded lands.  The proposal died in the House and went nowhere in 2010.

Even a few of these properties could generate all of the revenue OHA needs to operate and would give our future nation the assets it needs to serve our beneficiaries.  Let us hope that we can successfully lobby the State House to have a change of heart.

Aloha Ke Akua.

Mahalo nui to all (December 2010)

`Ano`ai kakou… Let me begin by expressing my warmest Mahalo to all those who supported me in the General Election. Your kokua has allowed me to return to OHA to serve you for another four-year term. A very special Mahalo nui to Ke Akua for his divine guidance and love that he has bestowed upon me and my family.


Now that the election is over, the time has come for all us to come together in spirit and give the Akaka bill the final push it needs to become law. The bill will provide powerful protection from the constant threat of lawsuits to all of our Hawaiian trust assets. This is the reason why I have always supported the bill. What we face today as Hawaiians is no different than what occurred over the past 100 years. We are still fighting off assaults on our culture, the deterioration of our rights to our lands, and attacks from racist organizations.


Let us begin to work together for the cause of recognition. Let us begin to agree on the things that we can agree to and set aside the things we differ on and move forward together for the future generations of Hawaiians yet to come.


This was an unusually difficult race with so many people running for the three at-large seats. As I traveled around the state, I listened to many questions that people had about Nationhood that I could only conclude that OHA was not doing enough to educate the people in our home state about sovereignty. What would sovereignty mean to Hawaiians and, just as importantly, how or will it affect the non-Hawaiians. This situation has got to change. Trustees are going to have to speak up and make this happen.

What is also needed is your participation. You must challenge EACH TRUSTEE to be accountable to you. It is unfortunate that you cannot assume that trustees will do this on their own. Like any governing entity, from time to time, especially when one faction has been in power for too long like it has been at OHA, “the people” need to become actively involved. Otherwise, complacency occurs and the abuse of power is inevitable.

As we close out the year of 2010, I would like to wish each of you a very safe and happy holiday season, and may the Lord in his grace bless each of you and your families and take you safely into 2011. Have a Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year. Aloha Ke Akua.

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.