Taking the High Road


Source: April 2008 Ka Wai Ola o OHA Column

‘Ano‘ai käkou… I would like to take a moment to pay tribute to the beloved Aunty Genoa Keawe, a genuinely warm and gentle person that was truly one of Hawai‘i’s greatest treasures. All of Hawai‘i wishes you Godspeed.


Since my December KWO column about the mass exodus of OHA employees, the “lock-down” security measures taken by the leadership to track employee whereabouts, and the low morale, etc., I have been locked in a war of words with Chairperson Apoliona’s chief of staff, Mrs. Winona Rubin, who placed a full-page ad in our January issue of the OHA newspaper trying to negate my comments. The ad was so ridiculous that I chose to answer it with a full-page ad of my own in the February issue (that many people said they never received through the mail) that went directly to the heart of my accusations. I asked Mrs. Rubin to explain the following: 

  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can explain in detail, the expenses for legal advice from attorneys who have not been able to deliver in any success in moving federal legislation forward.
  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can justify why there was no evaluation done on their performance before extending their contract for the past three years?
  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can justify all of the millions of trust dollars spent on our Kau Inoa registration done on the mainland where OHA spent money on nonprofit groups and others to sign up people, and paid for each person they signed up. There has been no accurate account distributed to OHA Trustees who have requested this information, estimated to be about $10 a signature for mainland registrations, which cannot possibly justify the millions of dollars that we have spent trying to collect those signatures.
  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can explain why for the past two years more effort has been spent getting signatures on the continent instead of focusing on Hawai‘i, where 80 percent of the Hawaiian population reside.
  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can explain why Haunani Apoliona’s sister has been put in charge of the mainland registrations and flying first class each time.
  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can explain how Chairperson Apoliona’s sister received a charge card from OHA and accumulated $10,000 in charges before the card was taken away.
  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can explain how, when the charge card was taken away from the Chair’s sister, she continued to charge expenses for travel, receptions and various other charges on her personal charge account, then was allowed to submit for reimbursement for those charges even though in some instances she had no receipts.
  • Perhaps Mrs. Rubin can explain why this employee was not fired for these egregious actions. If she were not the Chair’s sister, would she have been fired?

Instead of a serious response, Mrs. Rubin chose to place another childlike and amateurish ad in the March issue of the Ka Wai Ola which was filled with colorful cartoons. Her ad also misleadingly displayed the OHA logo and implies that OHA sanctioned the ad. Mrs. Rubin has, to this day, never seriously addressed any of the concerns I raised. It is because of her adolescent attitude that I decided to take the high road and not dignify her ad with another response. However, I remain steadfast in my convictions that OHA has some serious internal problems that need to be addressed.

I was also surprised that Trustee Walter Heen devoted his entire February column in the Ka Wai Ola to justify how OHA awards grants to organizations that really shouldn’t be getting them. OHA has been subsidizing the state Department of Education with educational programs since 1993, even though they already receive more than half of the state budget. We need to be advocating for our beneficiaries as state law requires. It’s time we made the DOE accountable for their neglect of their kuleana.

Heen also disagrees with my claim that certain nonprofits are savvier and better staffed than Native Hawaiian nonprofits and therefore are able to capture more OHA grants. I see the same organizations coming back to OHA for money year after year, while small nonprofits are left behind. I believe as the senior member of the Board, serving 18 consecutive years, I have the historical and institutional memory that can bear my comments out. 

On Jan. 18, 2008, OHA’s leadership and the governor announced that they had reached a $200 million settlement to our dispute with the state over ceded land revenues that remained to be paid to OHA from 1978 to 2008. 

I raised several questions with our leadership regarding OHA’s proposed legislation to remove sections 4, 5 and 6 from Article XII of the state Constitution, which spoke to OHA’s 20 percent pro rata share of ceded land revenues and rights to natural resources and minerals, and replacing the language with a guarantee of at least $15.1 million going forward into the future. 

I also asked if this meant that we would lose all rights to minerals and natural resources in the future. The answer was NO??? But if you read the committee report for the settlement bill, HB 266 HD2, it specifically provides that the property conveyed by the bill to OHA does NOT include the minerals or surface or ground water rights! The state retains all of these rights!!!

I also brought up inflation and whether $15.1 million would be sufficient even five years from now? As the U.S. dollar continues to decline, what will a dollar really be worth? While OHA’s attorneys have tried to assure us that this is an OK deal, there has been no real explanation for not factoring in inflation to the $15.1 million going forward or the fact that the leases of ceded lands will be re-evaluated over time.

The fact that this is an election year for Chair Apoliona leads me to believe that this settlement agreement is being rushed through the Legislature in an attempt to give her a “leg up” for her upcoming re-election. It finally took the Legislature passing a concurrent resolution to force OHA to take the agreement out into the community for public input. Otherwise, it would have only been decided by OHA’s leadership, the governor’s administration and the Legislature. I believe that there is still time to let your legislators know your mana‘o regarding the settlement bill.


  • As I write this column, OHA’s division officer in charge of grants has suddenly quit without a reason being given and without even a goodbye.  Oddly enough, Trustees Apoliona and Stender seemed happy about the change.


  • I am currently investigating widespread reports from beneficiaries that they have not received their February issue of the Ka Wai Ola. Please call my office at 594-1860 if you have not received your copy and I will have one sent to you right away. This issue contains my controversial column that is critical of OHA’s settlement deal with the state, which may be seen as threatening to the passage of OHA’s settlement bill.
  • Beneficiaries have informed me that their letters to the Ka Wai Ola editor that criticized Mrs. Rubin for her negative ads were not published. While this is of no surprise to me, it is a confirmation that only what the leadership wants published gets published.

These tireless game being played by OHA’s leadership may delay information flowing from our office to the beneficiaries, but the truth will always come out in the end. And as time goes by, it only reaffirms the comments I made in my December ’07 column about the excessive security, “lock-down” mentality and why there continues to be an exodus of OHA personnel.