Senate committee unanimously agrees to retain school board chair

By Catherine Cruz
Published On: Apr 09 2014 07:02:32 PM HST
Updated On: Apr 09 2014 10:11:18 PM HST

A Senate committee voted unanimously to reappoint Don Horner Wednesday, but there was nothing unanimous about the public testimony.

HONOLULU -

Retired bank executive and New Hope pastor Don Horner said he felt beat up after listening to more than two hours of testimony by his opponents.

Click here to watch Catherine Cruz' story.

They believe as head of the school board, he has limited public testimony and transparency at board meetings.

"Reconfirmation of Don Horner is allowing a Board of Education to be even more unavailable, inaccessible, and isolating, than it has in the past. It’s something I thought was impossible,” said Carolyn Kong, the parent of a special needs student.

Critics also took aim at New Hope's extensive use of school facilities, Horner’s position as head of the Pastors Roundtable, and its position opposing same-sex marriage.

"Everyone has a right to free speech, but you do not have the right to use funds 501-C3 funds to influence legislation. But you know that. I know that. New Hope knows that. But because Mr. Horner has his position with New Hope, that creates a very direct conflict of interest,” said Honolulu Attorney Hannah Miyamoto.

More than 130 people submitted testimony and many were in support of Horner.

"Chair Horner has always handled every discussion in a fair and equitable way and he has always been open to hearing our community voice,” said Cheri Nakamura, of the He’e Coalition.

”No one can doubt his commitment to do right for our children,” Tom Hutton, executive of the Charter School Commission.

 Lawmakers did pointedly ask Horner about using a phrase that some complained was racially offensive.

"I don’t recall using it. I respect the people who said I did, and if I did, and if I did use it, I certainly won’t use it again," said Don Horner.

Horner denied being homophobic, or acting as a double agent for the church as his critics suggest.

In the end, all four members of the senate committee voted for his reappointment.

"I have never at any point, ever, what so ever felt he trying to impose his religious views on our school system, and I would know if he were trying to do it," said Rep. Jill Tokuda, who chairs the education committee.

Horner declined to go on camera following the hearing to talk about how he would make meetings more public friendly.

“Nothing, I have nothing to say. I’m good," said Horner.

But off camera, Horner did tell KITV that his critics have it all wrong.

He said that decisions about structuring meetings came from the state attorney general’s office.

As for his position with New Hope Church, Horner did share with us that when it came to a vote on the same sex marriage issue with the Pastors Roundtable--he said he actually voted against it.

Horner said no one ever has asked him about it.

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