Executive committee members of the Hawaii Business Roundtable say a majority of its membership supports the committee’s opposition to House Bill 444.

Arthur Ushijima, president and CEO of Queen’s Health Systems, told Civil Beat Monday, “Like any executive committee, it is made up of a cross section of membership from different industries in the community. The group tries to represent the sentiment of the membership, and so that is really how it acted.”

Said Gary Kai, the roundtable’s executive director: “As far as if the committee represents the opinion of a majority of the board, my simple comment would be that I have no reason to believe it would not.”

The 10-member committee, which on June 4 sent a letter to Gov. Linda Lingle urging her to veto the civil unions measure, has declined to release its vote tally or say how exactly many of its 48 members support the veto.

But at least one roundtable member was not informed of the executive committee’s action until after the fact, the person said.

“I knew nothing about the letter until I received a courtesy copy from Gary Kai,” said the board member, who spoke on the condition that the comments would be anonymous. “Never, to my knowledge, has the executive committee set policy without even a discussion with the full membership let alone a vote or even a straw vote.”

The policy of the organization had been that no position would be taken on matters of public policy unless there was a consensus of more than 75 percent of members, said a different source who has been on the board and executive committee. The move by the executive committee to act without the consensus of the group would have been extraordinary under previous regimes at the roundtable, the person said.

Asked about the 75-percent requirement, another committee member, Don Horner, president and CEO of First Hawaiian Bank, replied, “I think you should take the letter for what it said. A majority of the executive committee basically approved the letter, and it is from the executive committee.”

Horner referred inquiries about the group’s bylaws to Kai, who replied, “I’m not sure if I can comment on policies and procedure, and if they would allow me to release that information I would be happy to do so. As the letter said, it was from the executive committee.”

Ushijima added that the executive committee’s letter “was not really about policy but a request for the governor to do some further due diligence on the business impact of the bill.”

He noted that Queen’s has provided benefits for domestic partners “for several years.”

Letter Does ‘Most Damage’

The Hawaii Business Roundtable’s opposition to HB 444 comes more than a month after the State Legislature passed the measure, and a year and a half after the measure was first introduced.

It has angered supporters of HB 444 and raised questions about the timing and logic of the roundtable’s intervention.

“They’ve released this letter when it can do the most damage,” said Michael Golojuch Jr., event coordinator for Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays on Oahu. “That doesn’t give us much time to raise a coordinated response. I’m just getting calls now.”

Lingle has until June 21 to tell lawmakers her veto intentions on civil unions, and until July 6 to veto, sign or let the bill become law without her signature. The House vote in approval was not large enough to override a veto.

Others question the legitimacy of the roundtable’s actions, and the secrecy surrounding its decision-making process.

“I think that under common law any executive committee has to give proper notice of meetings and agendas,” said Hannah Miyamoto of gay-rights advocate Pride Alliance Hawaii. “If not, their decision could be void. But we can’t seem to find out any more about the roundtable’s bylaws. They have a totally closed memberships that is harder to get into than the Masons.”

The executive committee members counter that they are not against civil unions per se, just language in HB 444 that suggests the bill may be impossible to implement, and that “raises a number of legal issues.” They ask that the governor appoint a commission to study the matter and make recommendations to the 2010 Legislature.

Roundtable Late To The Debate

Formed in 1983, the Hawaii Business Roundtable is made up of CEOs and senior executives representing a range of influential local businesses including banks, developers, airlines, hotels, hospitals, utilities, schools, supermarkets, retail stores and telecommunications.

As a statewide public policy organization, the roundtable’s mission, according to its website, is “to promote the overall economic vitality and social health of Hawaii.”

It is selective about the issues it takes on, stating that it gets involved “where the knowledge and perspective of its members can make a unique contribution,” and serves as a forum for issues “which are of wide community interest and could impact  business.”

But the roundtable comes late to the civil unions debate. As of June 14, its website did not list HB 444 as an agenda item, though it has taken public positions this year on other hot-button issues like gambling and rail transit.

Many roundtable companies are also members of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii. But the chamber — “the voice of business in Hawaii” — did not submit testimony on HB 444, and its 2010 agenda does not list civil unions among its top four legislative priorities.

Calls To Roundtable Not Returned

Phone calls to other roundtable executive committee members — Harry Saunders, president of Castle & Cooke Hawaii; Dee Jay Mailer, CEO of Kamehameha Schools; Constance Lau, president and CEO of Hawaiian Electric Industries; Mitch D’Olier, president and CEO of Kaneohe Ranch Co.; Nate Smith, president of Oceanic Cablevision; and Allen Uyeda, president and CEO of First Insurance Co. of Hawaii — were not returned Monday.

Kathryn Matayoshi, the roundtable’s executive director from 2007 to 2009 and now interim superintendent of the Hawaii Department of Education, also could not be reached.

But one board member, M.R.C. Greenwood, president of the University of Hawaii System, told Civil Beat through a spokeswoman, “The Board of Regents has a policy of nondiscrimination on the basis of race, sex, gender identity and expression, age, religion, color, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, arrest and court records, sexual orientation or status as a covered veteran. I firmly support this policy of nondiscrimination.”

Greenwood is not a member of the executive committee and was out of town when its letter was sent to the governor.

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