UPDATED 3:45 p.m.

The special Hawaii Senate hearings into the University of Hawaii following a botched Stevie Wonder benefit concert clocked in at seven and a half hours ending late Tuesday.

That’s equal to the amount of time the UH Board of Regents spent in executive session Aug. 22 to discuss what to do in the aftermath.

The difference between the Senate committee and the regents meeting, of course, is that the former was broadcast and streamed live across the state while the latter was held behind closed doors.

Which leads to perhaps the greatest takeaway from the whole business: that transparency and accountability matter.

There was news that came out of Tuesday’s hearing:

• Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple said nobody he talked to wanted to keep Jim Donovan as athletic director — apparently including some coaches — and the concert debacle was a factor in his demotion to brand marketing.

• Donovan’s dismissal probably should have received board approval, according to regent Coralie Matayoshi.

• The cost of the whole mess is $1.13 million and rising.

• A waiver was made so that the wiring of $200,000 from the UH to the alleged concert promoter didn’t have to wait the customary two days.

• A number of different people at UH had a hand in the wiring, not just one.

The hearings have wrapped, though some lawmakers said they wanted to hear from the regents general counsel and the public-relations firms advising the school.

Chair Donna Mercado Kim left open the possibility that her committee could reconvene — with subpoena power — when the Legislature is in session. And who knows what the FBI will turn up once it completes its investigation?

For now, here’s a few of the lessons Hawaii has learned from the so-called Wonder blunder.

Ain’t No Sunshine

Did the UH and its lawyers follow proper procedure when redacting a fact-finders’ report on the concert?

Did the regents adhere to open records and the Sunshine Law in their meetings?

It seems that neither did, and lawmakers strongly advised that the school administrators and their legal counsel strive harder to adhere to the law.

There is great irony in that the Legislature exempts itself from the Sunshine Law it wishes to enforce on others. But it was comforting to see our elected officials — especially Kim and Sen. Les Ihara — advocating so passionately for the public’s fundamental right to know what they paid for.

The records from the concert fiasco may yet be made public, if the Office of Information Practices allows it. In the meantime, administrators and regents agreed that it would be useful to brush up on the open records and Sunshine Law.

Who’s In Charge?

Sen. Sam Slom, always good for a quote, called the leadership situation a case of “the tail wagging the dog.”

He meant UH President M.R.C. Greenwood appeared to have the regents under her sway, though it is the regents who hire her and can fire her.

Sen. Ron Kouchi was especially troubled that the regents were not exercising their authority seriously enough.

It’s a difficult situation, however. For one, the regents are unpaid, vesus the hundreds of thousands of dollars that go to Greenwood, Apple and others.

Vice Chair Carl Carlson, who has been appointed to the regents by four different governors, noted that he had flown over from his home in Kona for the hearings, which meant that he could not spend time with his grandchildren on break from Kamehameha Schools.

Kim said she sympathized, but she also reminded them that they didn’t have to take the job if they couldn’t make the commitment.

Kill All The Lawyers — And The PR People, Too

It was Slom who quoted the familiar line from Shakespeare about killing lawyers, but his point is that there sure is a lot of taxpayer money going to attorneys and spin masters that aren’t doing a very good job.

Case in point Tuesday was Jeffrey Harris of Torkildson, Katz, Moore, Hetherington & Harris.

Kim was angry that Harris did not adequately provide information to her committee that was requested at the last hearing, including the total cost of legal and PR fees.

“The public is creating its own totals,” Kim said to Harris. “Don’t you owe it to the public?”

Harris did not provide a satisfactory answer. Another answer he gave, meanwhile — explaining away redactions in public reports involving past UH officials who left with big buyouts — was worse.

“The records were redacted out of personal privacy and respect for individuals involved,” he said, again and again, sounding like a defendant in a trial pleading the Fifth Amendment. “They have the right not to be named in a public proceeding.”

Ihara couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

“What is the basis of that right?” he asked, pushing Katz for the specific statute, of which none was forthcoming.

“The university took the precaution,” Katz eventually said, to which Ihara retorted, “I’m not asking about precautions — I’m asking about the law.”

Harris also said Jim McCoy and Barbara Tanabe of Hoakea Communications helped the lawyers with the redactions. Wow.

Lastly, Harris compared hiring lawyers to deal with cases like the Wonder concert to hiring plumbers to fix broken toilets. It was an unfortunate, though arguably apt analogy, for UH faces not the “perfect storm” that Greenwood described but a storm of a more colloquial kind.

Donna Is Concerned

People may fear Kim and confuse her with an attorney — Harris at one point actually called her “your honor” — but you can’t say she doesn’t do her homework. All in all, her committee’s work unveiled important information about how the UH works (or doesn’t).

Sometimes, though, Kim’s inquiries bordered on the micromanaging that she said the Legislature would avoid. Is it really a legislator’s position, for example, to question salaries made by an autonomous institution?

Then again, it’s precisely all those salaries and the generous severance packages for employees that don’t work out well — e.g., Evan Dobelle, Greg McMackin, Herman Frazier — that have so many people upset.

And, did the Senate really need to hold two six- or seven-hour hearings with only one break? As the hearing progressed, Kim only grew stronger while her victims — er, testifiers — grew weaker, causing them to make verbal mistakes.

The committee also was soft in their questioning of Donovan and Rich Sheriff, the manager of the Stan Sheriff Center. In fact, Donovan and Sheriff were by their own admission at the center of the concert fiasco. Sheriff kept his job, while Donovan will earn over half a million dollars during his three-year marketing contract.

Will any good come from the Senate hearings? Very probably.


Kim’s committee will draft a report for the Legislature, and the Education Committee may be looking at specific legislative and policy solutions.

“I hope we will see some changes,” Kim said, near the end of the hearing, to Regent Carlson.

“You’ll get answers,” Carlson replied. “These two hearings have been very instructive.”

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