Day 2 of Senate Hearings: Who is in charge?

By Catherine Cruz
Published On: Oct 02 2012 11:32:46 PM HST
Updated On: Oct 03 2012 08:58:56 AM HST

Who, is in charge? That's what lawmakers were asking at the end of day two of a special senate committee trying to figure out how the Univeristy of Hawaii could lose 200 thousand dollars in a Stevie Wonder concert scam.

HONOLULU -

What did you know, when did you know it, and why can't we get straight answers to our questions?

That sums up the seven-and-a-half hours of grilling of University of Hawaii regents and other highly paid people in-charge.

Lawmakers expressed frustration -- even with pointed questions about how much the "Wonder Blunder" cost taxpayers, the answers from lawyers and administrators were evasive.

"It seems like they give you as little as possible,” said Sen. Donna Kim, head of the special senate committee on accountability.

What may have started out as a $200,000 loss to the university, could mushroom to more than million dollars by some estimates, with the missteps, and the added layers of outside legal and public relations and accounting contracts.

The thing that triggered worried looks across the room was the concern that the settlement agreement and reassignment of Jim Donavan from Athletics Director to the Chancellor’s office, may not be legal because regents didn’t formally vote on it as some suggest board policy dictates.

"We were advised by our general counsel that this was within board policy that this was a settlement in respect to the $50,000 dollars and a reassignment," said UH regent James Lee.

"If there was any potential liability, or claim, and if there was a reassignment, that position of reassignment should have been discussed in open session. But, that wasn’t even posted on your agenda. You are contradicting yourself, left and right," said Senator Ron Kouchi.

The legislative probe threw light on serious governance issues with what some see as a dysfunctional board, and a culture of operating in violation of the state's sunshine laws.

There are also questions lingering over whether the UH president that may have overstepped her authority on more than one occasion; once when she stepped in to represent Hawaii in the Mountain West Conference and again while representing a large payout to outgoing Manoa chancellor Virginia Hinshaw.

"This Wondergate is an example of how some people perceive that the regents are asleep at the switch, or too cozy with the president and outside law firms” said Sen. Sam Slom.

Lawmakers were also surprised to learn that while UH administrators contacted the FBI about the concert scam, they also failed to let Honolulu police know about the missing money.

Meanwhile, UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple admitted under questioning he should have consulted the Board of Regents about Donovan's new public relations position at more than $200,000 a year.

"One of the things that I hope we can learn from all of this is that we are going to learn from our mistakes so we don’t make them again, so I don’t disagree with you at all,” said Apple.

UH regents also assured the committee members that they will be reviewing fiscal policies and will ask for guidance from the Office of Information Practices on sunshine laws.

They will also be exploring if there should be changes to the governance practices and relationship between the General Counsel’s office and the Board of regents and UH president.

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