Editor’s note: Civil Beat introduces a weekly column by Kaaawa blogger Ian Lind called “Hawaii Monitor.” Lind, a former investigative reporter with the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, edited and published a monthly newsletter titled Hawaii Monitor from 1990-1993 that covered Hawaii politics.

Lind was a senior aide to former Honolulu City Councilman Neil Abercrombie, executive director of Common Cause Hawaii and director of the Hawaii area program of the American Friends Service Committee, the Quaker organization that works for social justice, peace and humanitarian service. Lind is also a past chairman of the Honolulu Community-Media Council.

Look for his column every Wednesday on CivilBeat.

The Senate Special Committee on Accountability, chaired by Sen. Donna Kim, created a fascinating spectacle with its public probe of “the operational and financial management” of the University of Hawaii, triggered by the athletic department’s failed Stevie Wonder concert and the suspension of popular former athletic director Jim Donovan.

The committee held two extended public informational briefings with more than 10 hours of televised testimony, and released thousands of pages of internal university documents, witness statements, contracts and emails.

The proceedings and documents have not answered the question of what happened to the $250,000 wired to a faux Bank of America escrow account in Florida, including $200,000 sent by UH, and the other $50,000 from Honolulu promoter Bob Peyton. University officials say they were victims of a sophisticated scam.

But the committee certainly succeeded in obtaining a remarkable look behind the scenes of the state’s premier institution of higher education and exposing underlying issues that created the “perfect storm” which apparently allowed scammers to disappear with the money.

The committee’s report is pending, but here’s my broad brush account of what lay behind this debacle.

Athletics Bypassed Normal Channels

What was routine for athletics would be anything but routine for other departments and programs on the UH Manoa campus.

The UH athletics department has, for years, enjoyed an unusual degree of autonomy, operating largely outside of normal channels.

The typical university department is at the bottom of a long chain of command that runs from department chairs or program directors up through assistant deans, deans, and various vice-chancellors, each with their own staff to review and question, and only then on to the Manoa chancellor.

The athletic director, on the other hand, reports directly to the chancellor, who in turn reports to the president, according to documents compiled by the committee.

The evidence suggests even the chancellor’s oversight of athletics was cursory at best.

On May 6, as the concert idea was being pursued down in the athletic department’s lower campus offices, physically separated from the rest of the campus, then-Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw signed off on a request to the university’s Office of General Counsel to provide legal assistance in drafting a contract for the concert.

In later testimony, though, Hinshaw didn’t even recall having approved this request. Instead, she said she first learned of the concert more than a month later, when advance ticket sales were announced by Koa Anuenue, the umbrella booster organization.

And Hinshaw didn’t seek more details on the concert until June 19, when questions were raised in an email from President M.R.C. Greenwood. This was just days before the $200,000 wire transfer was dispatched to Florida.

“My approval for the concert was neither sought nor given,” Hinshaw said in a statement to UH factfinders.

She said simply: “I was not involved with the concert.”

So much for campus oversight.

System Takeover of Athletics Blurred Accountability

Hinshaw’s near “hands off” policy toward athletics may have been, at least in part, a reaction to the unusual degree of direct control over key athletic policies exerted over the past two years by President Greenwood and the Board of Regents, effectively a takeover of the athletic program.

Although NCAA rules say control of athletics is to be vested in the head of the campus, in this case the Manoa chancellor, Greenwood moved in 2010 to take direct control of negotiations over the university’s departure from the Western Athletic Conference and, later, over the selection of a new football coach. In both cases, she delegated authority to Rockne Freitas, vice-president for student affairs and university and community relations, and a former professional football player.

These moves appeared contrary to the NCAA rule, and contradicted assurances given by the university as part of a required self-study submitted to the NCAA in May 2011.

According to the self-assessment, “Board of Regents policy states that the intercollegiate athletic program shall be administered by the Director of Athletics under the direction of the Chancellor.”

The reality, though, was quite different.

Hinshaw, in written responses to questions from the Senate committee, said she was informed by Greenwood and former BOR chair Howard Karr “that the President would represent UH Manoa in the Mountain West Conference.”

Hinshaw said she opposed the move based on the NCAA requirement, but was overruled.

Greenwood, along with current BOR Chair Eric Martinson, also controlled the process of naming a committee to select a new football coach, also over Hinshaw’s objections.

“It is a matter of record that I had objected to the search committee having no representation from UH Manoa and I recommended that a UH Manoa faculty member and a UH student athlete be added to the committee; however, the final search committee did not contain any UH Manoa representatives,” Hinshaw wrote.

Hinshaw was not the only one brushed aside in the process.

Peter Nicholson, a professor of English who also serves as the designated NCAA faculty athletic representative, called the degree of control exerted by Greenwood and the UH System “unprecedented.”

NCAA rules call for the faculty representative to be a key member of the campus athletics’ management team, but Nicholson said the president and the regents failed to consult with him, or the Manoa Faculty Senate’s Committee on Athletics, when considering key policy decisions.

Greenwood and “the Regents” bypassed the rest of the Manoa administration and were giving instructions directly to athletic director Donovan, according to Hinshaw’s testimony.

This “really made it difficult for people to do their jobs most effectively,” Hinshaw wrote. “Because of the intense interest in athletics, Jim Donovan had a particularly difficult challenge.”

Donovan’s Challenge

To make matters worse, Donovan, who has developed lots of friends in political and business circles while spreading the athletics’ gospel, was in contract limbo during the months the concert idea was being pursued.

Chancellor Hinshaw’s recommendation to extend his contract for five years beyond its expiration in March 2013 was turned down by Greenwood, as was the revised recommendation of a three-year extension submitted to the president in April. The chancellor told Greenwood that a one-year contract extension would be “unacceptable” to Donovan.

With his future uncertain, Donovan delegated responsibility for the proposed concert to arena manager Richard Sheriff, who did not normally report directly to the athletic director and who had never been given sole responsibility for such an event.

“I told Sheriff to handle it,” Donovan said in his statement to the factfinders.

After that, Donovan appeared to pay little attention: “I did not do anything to investigate … I did not task anyone with investigating … I was not involved in the back-and-forth of the negotiations … I did not review drafts of the contract …,” and so on.

While Donovan apparently assumed the involvement of a lawyer from the Office of General Counsel provided sufficient oversight to be sure everything had been fully reviewed and approved, and all contract requirements carried out by his staff, this appears to have been a misunderstanding of the OGC’s role.

Ryan Akamine, the attorney working on the contract, later told investigators the business terms included in a contract came from “the clients,” in this case the athletic department.

“I might comment on business terms, but only to confirm that the terms can be performed and carried out by the client,” Akamine said. “I do not change the business terms … The essential terms of a contract are always provided by the client.”

And in June, while the final concert plans were set, tickets sales started, and the university’s $200,000 payment sent off to Florida, Donovan was literally phoning in his performance while traveling on a combination of university business and planned vacation during almost the entire month.

Perfect Storm

Add in that it was the end of the university’s fiscal year with all of the last-minute pressure that typically entails, and top fiscal staff were focused on the transition to an entirely new financial system that was underway at the same time, and it truly was a perfect storm.

In the end, the many individual errors, omissions, and lapses in judgment that occurred from top to bottom have to be seen in this context.

But with political pressure focused more on deciding who is to blame for Donovan’s suspension and transfer to a new position than on restoring institutional control over athletics, there’s no quick fix likely to emerge from the current investigations.

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