Back to Normal: Ho Hum, Business as Usual

`Ano`ai kakou…  Nothing frustrates me more than issues falling through the cracks due to inaction by the Board.  While we are moving ahead with OHA’s Financial Audit and Management Review thanks to the leadership of Trustee Keliʻi Akina, other important issues have fallen off OHA’s radar.  For example:

  • REDUCING OHA’S SPENDING POLICY LIMIT: Reducing our spending policy limit to 4-½ percent of the Trust Fund would be a wise move in the current economy. It appears clear that the stock market will not be a place for OHA to look for great returns on our investment over the next few years.  The predictors are very gloomy; all the more reason to be cautious and prudent with spending.
  • ELIMINATING THE FISCAL RESERVE FUND: Two years ago, one of OHA’s money managers recommended that we get rid of the Fiscal Reserve slush fund. Trustees seemed supportive, but nothing has happened since.
  • PROTECTING KULEANA LANDS: OHA and the Native Hawaiian Legal Corporation need to form a partner as soon as possible to stop outsiders, or anyone, who try to “quiet title” Hawaiian lands. This problem is not going away.
  • PROTECTING MAUNA KEA: I believe that transferring responsibility over Mauna Kea lands to OHA would produce the best “win-win” situation for the State, the University of Hawaii and all of OHA’s Native Hawaiian beneficiaries. What better solution could there be than to put Hawaiian lands in Hawaiian hands?
  • SUNSHINE LAW: After two years of fruitless negotiations, the majority of Trustees want to go to trial rather than settle my legal complaint that the Board was not following Sunshine Law during closed-door executive sessions.
  • NATIVE HAWAIIAN CONSTITUTION: On February 26, 2016, the majority of the Na‘i Aupuni ‘Aha participants voted to adopt The Constitution of the Native Hawaiian Nation. The next step was to ratify the Constitution by taking it out to our people, but nothings has happened since.  OHA needs to follow-up on its current status.
  • OHA NEEDS TO REVISIT ITS POLICIES AND RULES: Many of our most recent rules were created to punish and control Trustees.  We just need to follow the law.  We have also 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.

The current Board leadership appears more concerned with keeping power in their hands rather than attacking tough issues.  If they don’t change their ways, all OHA will have to show in the next two years is a big, fat zero, because we are right back to where we were before I look the Chairmanship – Nowhere!  No progress with the University of Hawaii and the Thirty Meter Telescope, Kakaʻako, and other important issues.

Aloha till the next time.

Embracing Transparency: New Leadership finally comes to OHA


`Ano`ai kakou…  Happy Year of the Sheep!  Big Island Trustee Robert Lindsey has been selected as our new Chairman of the Board.  Trustee Dan Ahuna is our Vice-Chair.  Trustee John Waihee IV chairs the Beneficiary Advocacy and Empowerment Committee and Trustee Hulu Lindsey chairs the Land and Property Committee.

As many of my readers know, I have worked diligently for many years to make OHA accountable to our beneficiaries and to make our decision making process more transparent.  This call for openness has made me very unpopular with the past two OHA Chairs.

After years of having my requests get absolutely nowhere, I was finally forced to file a lawsuit against OHA in September 2013 to make it more transparent.  Now that a new leadership team is in place, this lawsuit may no longer be necessary.

As the new Chairperson of the Asset & Resource Management (ARM) Committee (henceforth the “Budget & Finance” Committee), I will oversee all fiscal and budgetary matters and ensure that OHA’s trust fund is properly management.

The Budget & Finance Committee also oversees OHA’s real estate and develops policy on land use, native rights, and natural and cultural resources.  It also approves all grants and evaluates OHA programs to decide whether we should continue funding them.

Now that decision making has shifted to a new majority, I feel confident that our beneficiaries will be pleased with the upcoming changes.


If you haven’t already heard, you may now go to OHA’s website at to watch live meetings of the OHA Board of Trustees.  Be sure to tune in on the days we have our meetings.  For a meeting schedule, please call me at (808) 594-0204.


Mahalo nui loa to Governor Neil Abercrombie for his constant support of Native Hawaiian issues, which goes all the way back to championing the Akaka bill while he was in Congress.  He can take pride in being the Governor that finally made the ceded lands settlement a reality with the transfer of Kakaako Makai to OHA.

I would also like to thank State Senators Malama Solomon and Clayton Hee, and Representative Faye Hanohano for their dedicated service to the Native Hawaiian Community while serving in the state legislature.  I wish them well in their future endeavors.

While OHA now has to work even harder to educate the new incoming legislators on unresolved Native Hawaiian issues, I have high hopes that we will have another successful session and get more things done for our beneficiaries.

Aloha Ke Akua.

OHA Trustees excluded


Source: July 2010 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Monthly Column

Chair Apoliona goes out of her way to exclude trustees from board discussions.  For example:


Back in April, the SEC brought a civil action against Goldman Sachs, one of OHA’s two money managers, because of “a single transaction in 2007 involving two professional institutional investors.”  Goldman assured us that they believe the SEC’s allegations were “completely unfounded both in law and fact,” and that they would vigorously defend themselves.  Every trustee had reason to be deeply concerned since, as of December 31, 2009, Goldman managed $171,649,375 of OHA’s Trust Fund.

On April 20, 2010, Goldman invited OHA to meet with them in New York on May 7, 2010 for an explanation.  Chairperson Apoliona, Trustees Machado and Stender, and CEO Namuo traveled to New York for the meeting.  I did not submit a request to travel so I don’t know if the Chair denied travel for anyone else.

On April 21, 2010, Goldman offered to provide Trustees that could not attend the New York meeting with a “live video conference feed” from their office to our boardroom.  This would allow all of us to at least listen in on the Goldman meeting.

Then suddenly, on April 23, 2010, the OHA Board Counsel cancelled the Goldman videoconference, most likely at the request of the Chairperson.  At the request of Trustee Heen, the Board Counsel wrote a legal opinion to explain his position.  The Board Counsel felt that, since Goldman refused to allow the video conference to be viewed by the public in an open meeting, OHA would end up breaking the Sunshine Law.  Since none of the trustees I have spoken to have actually seen any communication from Goldman Sachs objecting to an open meeting, I am not convinced that there was such a communication.

There were other ways to allow the trustees to listen in and still stay within the law.  For example, we could have gone into executive session during the “sensitive” portions of the broadcast.  While it wouldn’t have been the most ideal solution, Chair Apoliona has shown in the past that she has no problems taking things into executive session, even when it is not necessary except to keep the public from hearing what is going on.

It is clear to me that this was just a deliberate attempt to keep the majority of the board from hearing what Goldman had to say.  At the time of the writing of this article, there has been NO report to the Board of Trustees from Trustees Apoliona, Stender, or Machado regarding their New York meeting.


Another example of Chair Apoliona’s selective denial happened back in 2008, when, without even the proper authority, Apoliona denied my travel to South Dakota on official business as a board member of the Governors’ Interstate Indian Council (GIIC).  I am the only non-Indian member of this national organization representing Native Americans and Alaska Natives in all 50 states.  The GIIC has supported OHA’s efforts for federal recognition with five resolutions that have been sent to Congress on our behalf.


On May 4, 2010, the Board Counsel wrote another legal opinion about his decision to deny a Trustee from participating in a Board Workshop on April 22, 2010 by telephone.  The Trustee had been told by the Administration that it wouldn’t be a problem for him to participate over a speaker phone, but that decision was overruled by the Board Counsel, which went against OHA’s longstanding practice of allowing participation via telephone as long as the Trustee did not vote.


On April 26, 2010, each Trustee received an invitation letter from the Hawai`i State Society of Washington, D.C. to participate in the 2010 Kamehameha Lei draping ceremonies on June 6, 2010.  Trustees have supported and attended the ceremony since 2003; including the historic first ceremony in Emancipation Hall at the new Capitol Visitors Center in 2009.  Despite this, on May 3, 2010, the Chairperson denied travel for all Trustees except for herself and OHA staff members CEO Namuo, COO Stanton Enomoto, and Special Assistant to the CEO Martha Ross.

Meetings were scheduled by the Administration to meet with Federal Officials while in Washington, D.C. – meetings that the Trustees should have attended.  This has become a common practice with this Chair.  Despite this denial, I elected to pay my own way to Washington, D.C. as I had an important meeting scheduled at the White House.

Chairperson Apoliona must stop interfering with our right to represent the beneficiaries that elected us.  Sadly, this has been going on for the last eight years.


In a May 3rd e-mail to the Trustees, Chair Apoliona explained that she was denying travel for the 2010 Kamehameha Lei draping in D.C. on June 6th, because of economic reasons, not mentioning that there were also important meetings scheduled with Federal Officials that Trustees should have attended.  Chair Apoliona wrote:

“Since 2009 Trustees have been asked to limit requests for out of state travel due to our downturn in the economy and the impact on OHA resources.  Although there is demonstration of what appears to be an ‘improving’ economy, we all continue to be vigilant and cautious.”  “…even in 2010 we should remain cautious about out of state travel costs and continue to manage out-of-State travel requests prudently.” — OHA Chair Haunani Apoliona

However, the Chair failed to mention that while she was denying Trustees’ travel, three OHA staff members went instead of Trustees.  While in D.C., OHA paid for a reception for 200 people, including entertainment.  How much did this cost our beneficiaries?  What about the “downturn in the economy?”

While I understand her reasons for being “cautious” with our spending during this economic downturn, a quick review of OHA’s recent spending shows that she is at worse a hypocrite and, at best, full of baloney.  For example, at a time when our people are living homeless on beaches, OHA authorized spending the following on June 3, 2010:

  • $100,000 to sponsor a Native Hawaiian men’s health conference in June 2010; and
  • $100,000 to sponsor an International Indigenous Health Conference.  There was no mention of how many Hawaiians were going to be able to attend this Conference.

The Administration also proposed to transfer $421,300 in education grant money to fund a “Continent Community Education” program in Hi’ilei Aloha LLC, a nonprofit that currently manages Waimea Valley.  This program would have given OHA funds to an organization outside of the Trustee’s direct oversight.  Hi’ilei Aloha would then determine who gets to travel to the mainland to educate people about the Akaka bill.  My guess is that her relative, who now works with Hi’ilei Aloha, would be doing most of the traveling, since that was the case when she worked for OHA.  This highly questionable proposal was quickly scuttled after several trustees and I brought up serious concerns at the board table, specifically that this private organization would in fact end up doing the work that OHA Trustees are charged to do.


Just about five years ago, OHA’s budget was around $23 million.  Today, OHA’s budget has ballooned to $42,107,095.  A whopping $12,320,998 is spent on salaries and benefits.  Another $7,541,655 is spent on work that is contracted outside of OHA.  Only $1,410,130 is spent on OHA programs to assist our beneficiaries!  What’s up with that?


I have always said that OHA’s two committee system allows too many important issues to slip through the cracks.  The system was put into place by Chair Apoliona to consolidate her control over the Board of Trustees.  Since the two committee chairs have to oversee every function of the Board, there are just too many issues for each committee chair to consider and a lot of important issues fall through the cracks.  Things are so bad now that almost nothing is being done by the committees.

The Asset and Resource Management (ARM), chaired by Trustee Stender, meets only twice a month (if there are no sudden cancellations), despite the huge swings in the stock market and the volatile nature of the world economy.  Also, the ARM committee is responsible for evaluating OHA programs and deciding whether to continue, modify, or terminate their funding, but this has not occurred for the past several years.  The State Auditor’s recent report will back this up.

In the past year, the ARM committee has cancelled or rescheduled many meetings, reducing the number of meetings we have in a month.  For example:

  • The August 5, 2009 and September 2, 2009 ARM Committee Meetings were cancelled.
  • The September 23, 2009 meeting was rescheduled to September 22, 2009.  Since there was no quorum for the September 22, 2009 meeting, it was postponed.
  • The ARM Committee meeting scheduled for May 12, 2010 was cancelled.  There were no ARM meetings in all of May 2010.

Since Trustee Stender has chaired the ARM committee, OHA has not taken its budget out into the community as required by law.

The Beneficiary Advocacy and Empowerment (BAE) committee, Chaired by Trustee Colette Machado, is responsible for developing programs which focus on beneficiary health, human services, native rights and education and evaluate all OHA programs to ensure a positive impact on our beneficiaries.  Not only has the BAE Chair failed to develop any new programs, she is actually trying to eliminate them.  Just ask members of the Native Hawaiian Historic Preservation Council (NHHPC).  In fact, since Chairperson Apoliona has chaired the Board and Trustees Machado and Stender have chaired the two Committees, virtually all OHA programs have been discontinued.

Another byproduct of this system is that the active participation of the six other trustees has been cut-off.  The only thing that the other Trustees get to do is vote on whatever is being brought to the board or committee table.  In the past, the five committee system gave the majority of the trustees the responsibility of running a committee.  Today, I believe that the saddest result of the two committee system is that several of the trustees have become apathetic.  They aren’t as interested in board affairs since they are not consulted about any subject matters prior to a meeting.  Chair Apoliona has also acquiesced trustees’ power to the CEO, which further exacerbates the problem.

Chair Apoliona always likes to say that OHA has never been better.  There is no truth to that statement.  There was a time when Trustees were passionate about the issues near and dear to their hearts; worked tirelessly to improve the lives of our beneficiaries; and when the moral of our employees were at its best.  Let us look for change in the November elections.  Aloha pumehana.

OHA must televise its meetings


Source: July 2008 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

`Ano`ai kakou…  Just like the resistance to conducting a forensic audit on OHA by certain trustees, efforts to broadcast our meetings on television are also facing the similar resistance.  The question is why? 

A forensic audit would be a useful tool to help us manage our assets better, as well as look at the things that we are doing right.  Similarly, broadcasting OHA meetings would be a great communication tool for our beneficiaries to learn about the programs we fund, how we are spending their Native Hawaiian Trust dollars.  More importantly, they can find out about the many, many other functions that OHA is also currently involved in such as land, water, and historic preservation issues (including litigation) on all islands.  We can also go more in-depth about the federal and state legislation that we support or object to.

Trustees at our May 22nd Committee on Beneficiaries, Advocacy & Empowerment (BAE) meeting were not supportive of a resolution (HCR 345), recently passed by the legislature, which asks that OHA be more accountable to our beneficiaries by televising our general meetings – similar to what the state legislature and city council already do on OLELO Community television.

One trustee insisted that, “If we had to do it, I would opt for the most inexpensive way.”  Another asked, “Who would watch us anyway?  There aren’t any numbers or demographics even on our radio show during our morning drive into work.”  I feel this is really a good question.  Why don’t we know who many people are listening to the show, especially since the show’s contract has just been renewed?  One trustee even said that “the legislature’s reso is just that!  It’s not law and we don’t have to do it if we don’t want to.”

Our deputy administrator’s comments were that he would have a recommendation to the board by September – Four months from our meeting!  Recognizing that it would only be a recommendation, it appears that there would NOT be a recording of an OHA meeting until the end of the year.  Why are these trustees worried about what the beneficiaries and the general public would see?  It should be obvious given the fact that it is an election year and Trustees Apoliona, Cataluna, Lindsey, and Machado are running for re-lection in the November 4th general election.

There are many positive points of broadcasting our meetings:

  • Broadcasting on OLELO would cost almost NO money since there are as many as fifty OHA staff members that are certified to handle OLELO video equipment and OLELO would run the show on their Native Hawaiian cable channel for free. 
  • OHA already produces regular programs and discussions on OLELO.
  • Most OHA meetings take place during work hours in the middle of the work week.  We should give our beneficiaries the option of viewing our meetings after they get home from work or on the weekends.
  • As for viewership, OHA deals with many hot-button issues that would resonate with the community and draw hundreds, if not thousands of viewers.
  • OHA’s mandate is so enormous that a one hour radio show couldn’t possibly address or explain exactly what we do here.  A television show would do more for OHA than any other paid advertising that OHA has ever done.
  • More and more people are turning on their televisions or their computers to view the news.  Unfortunately, less people are reading newspapers, like our Ka Wai Ola, these days.

All that said, broadcasting the OHA meetings would be a very good way to improve OHA’s image in the community.

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.”