`Ano`ai kakou… It is with sadness I say aloha to former OHA Trustee Moanikeʻala Akaka who passed away in Hilo on Saturday, April 15, 2017, at the age of 72. I had the distinct honor of serving with Moani on the OHA Board from 1990 to 1996.
Trustee Akaka was a prominent figure in the early days of the Hawaiian Renaissance, and her outspoken and passionate activism on behalf of Native Hawaiians and the disenfranchised continued throughout her entire life. Trustee Akaka strongly opposed the militarization of Hawaiʻi and the use of Kahaoʻolawe and Pōhakuloa as bombing and munitions training areas and she was also a passionate advocate for the protection of Mauna Kea.
In February, 2004, Trustee Akaka came to ask OHA if she qualified for state retirement for her past service as an OHA Trustee from November 28, 1984 to November 15, 1996. The administration let her know that she did not qualify for state retirement under the Employees’ Retirement System (ERS).
From November 26, 1980 through 1993, OHA Trustees served without a salary. Trustees received a stipend of $50.00 per day for each meeting they attended and travel expenses. So back then, Trustees were considered part-time workers but we worked full-time.
In 1993, the OHA Trustee Salary Commission was established and Trustees started to receive an annual salary of $32,000, but we were not included in the ERS so we didn’t qualify for state retirement benefits.
In 2002, the law was changed to allow OHA Trustees, in service on or after July 1, 2002, to participate in the ERS. Although we tried to grandfather in the past Trustees, the new law ended up excluding past Trustees that served before July 1, 2002. The law only gave retirement benefits to Trustees elected after July 1, 2002.
In February of 2015, Trustee Akaka renewed her request for retirement benefits from OHA. As Chair of the Budget Committee, I asked the Administration to draft an action item proposing to make a single, lump sum payment to former Trustee Akaka, which would equal a Trustees’ one year’s salary in 2015, excluding fringe benefits. Although some Trustees had some concerns, this proposal passed with no objections on May 14, 2015.
For too many years, OHA Trustees were treated as “step children” of the State. Yet we are elected statewide and serve all year long. We are also fiduciaries which no other elected officials are. Our responsibilities are much greater than a state legislator. Yet it took 13 years to get a salary, which comes from Trust Funds, and 22 years to be allowed retirement benefits. The legislature can give itself raises while OHA has to wait for the Governor to appoint a salary commission every four years to see if we deserve a raise. It’s been eight years and two Commissions who have said no to raises. What is wrong with this picture? We are still being treated as second class citizens.
On May 25, 2017, the Trustees adopted a resolution honoring the life and contributions of Trustee Akaka and extended its deepest condolences to her ʻohana. If you are interested in making a donation to the ‘ohana, checks can be made payable to Trustee Akaka’s daughter. Here is her contact information: Ho‘oululahui Erika Perry, 80 Alahelenui Street, Hilo, HI 96720.
Mahalo nui and Godspeed Moani.