One, two punch over church lawsuit

Published On: Aug 16 2013 04:51:00 PM HST

Mitch Kahle and Holly Huber took aim at five Oahu churches Thursday.

Now they plan to ask for a senate investigative hearing and a legislative audit into the management practices of the Department of Education and whether officials may have broken the law.

Up until the roof caved in at Farrington High school's auditorium last fall, the campus was predominately used by New Hope church for its weekend services.

“New Hope at Farrington was allowed to be there for almost 18 years until the roof collapsed, and at Kaiser High School they have used that school for ten years and as Jim said, sometimes 15 years and 28 years for the longest user," said Mitch Kahl,e who initiated the whistle blower lawsuit.

At this point it's unclear why that was allowed.

A 1986 attorney general's opinion advised the DOE that schools limit use of its campuses by a church group to five years-- because of entanglement issues.

But in April of this year, school superintendent Kathy Matayoshi changed the form deleting the reference to five-year-limit.

"One of things this lawsuit will test is whether the superintendent can unilaterally change those rules that have been set by law," said attorney Jim Bickerton.

A second point is that the law requires state land board approval if school facilities are used for more than 12-consecutive months.

 But it appears that never happened.

Kahle and co-plaintiff Holly Huber asked the Department of Land and Natural Resources for documentation but were told there was none.The lawsuit is being filed on behalf of the state.

The challenge was actually filed back in March, but was kept under seal until the attorney general could review and decide whether or not to pursue the issue.

So why the AG didn't run with it?

"I will note we are entering election season. There are many voters who belong in the churches and it’s easier to let private citizens pursue this than put government in direct conflict with the churches," said Bickerton.

The lawsuit certainly also puts the governor and the head of his appointed school board in a tricky position.

Don Horner is also a minister of New Hope Diamond Head church.

Horner and the governor could not be reached for comment.




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