UPDATED 6:30 p.m. 05/20/14

The nine trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs and its embattled chief executive officer began their day not knowing whether they would come to agreement on anything.

Seven hours later, after intense discussions and a lot of tears, they emerged from a closed-door meeting to, as Chairwoman Colette Machado put it, speak again with one voice, united in aloha.

CEO Kamana’o Crabbe agreed.

“We are a stronger people today,” he said. “We are a stronger organization. We are a stronger OHA.”

The dispute between Crabbe and the trustees began 10 days ago when Crabbe sought a legal opinion from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. Did the Hawaiian Kingdom, overthrown in 1893, still exist? And if it did, what did that mean for OHA and its efforts to rebuild a Hawaiian nation?

Crabbe said at the time he believed he had the trustees’ support in writing a letter to Kerry. Instead, the trustees immediately wrote their own letter to Kerry rescinding Crabbe’s action. Machado said she never gave him permission to write his letter.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Kamana’o Crabbe speaking to the crowd at the OHA Board of Trustees meeting.

Two of the trustees soon changed their mind as a groundswell of support embraced Crabbe’s action. Some Hawaiians disapprove of OHA and the Native Hawaiian Roll Commission that seeks to form a nation with the consent of the federal government. For them, complete independence is the only answer.

OHA’s board meeting began with some attendees raising questions about the Sunshine Law, which governs public agency meetings and notices.

The meeting notice listed only two agenda items. The first was a personnel matter involving consultation with OHA legal counsel, Robert Klein, a former Hawaii Supreme Court justice, about what the board could do regarding Crabbe’s conduct. The second, with Klein and two other attorneys, concerned the board’s powers and duties under its governance.

Though the agenda allowed for no public testimony, dozens and dozens of Crabbe supporters nonetheless filled the OHA board room. Several of them spoke out loud, arguing that Monday’s meeting also violated the Sunshine Law.

OHA’s action may violate Hawaii Revised Statutes 92-3, which reads in part, “The boards shall also afford all interested persons an opportunity to present oral testimony on any agenda item.”

Klein dismissed those arguments, however, stating that OHA was entitled to go into executive session without public comment.

But another trustee, Dan Ahuna, worried that OHA had violated the law.

“I’m scared about what is going on and I want to protect myself,” he said.

Trustee Carmen Hulu Lindsey suggested OHA allow some testimony. But trustee Oswald Stender said it wasn’t necessary, as OHA had already heard testimony “hundreds of times over” regarding Crabbe.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Office of Hawaiian Affairs chair Colette Machado.

OHA offices have also been flooded with calls, letters and emails. Machado told Crabbe supporters Monday that their concerns had been heard “loud and clear.”

“We’re not dumb and deaf,” she said. “We care about the future of our people.”

But some in the audience would have none of that.

“Prove it!” shouted one. “You turn your backs on everyone!” yelled another.

Trustee Haunani Apoliona said it was the board’s kuleana, or responsibility, to address the Crabbe matter in “a fair and open process.” She said because of the Rice v. Cayetano decision that opened OHA elections to non-Hawaiians, OHA’s kuleana “is much broader than just Hawaiians.”

Ahuna and Carmen Hulu Lindsey are the two trustees who asked to have their names removed from the letter to rescind.

They and trustee Robert Lindsey were the dissenting votes on the motion for the board to go into executive session at Monday’s meeting. Machado, Stender, Apoliona and Apo were joined by trustees Rowena Akana and John Waihee IV to move into the closed session.

Machado asked for the room to be cleared so that the trustees could begin meeting in private. But only a few people left, the rest staying in defiance.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Supporters of Kamana’o Crabbe sang, chanted and prayed outside OHA offices.

Kumu hula Hina Wong-Kale led her Halau Lokahi students in a chant. Still, nobody left the board room.

Finally, Crabbe spoke, first in Hawaiian, then in English. He asked “humbly” for the opportunity for the board to meet privately, and he promised that the public would be informed once OHA had resolved its problems internally.

“We take this very seriously because we know what is at stake and think we will act in best interest for our lahui (nation) today,” he said.

The room cleared so the meeting could begin.

How the board and its CEO proceed from here is unclear. None took questions from reporters after the meeting.

New cracks in OHA’s unity emerged elsewhere. Before the meeting, Apo wrote on his blog:

The nation-building effort undertaken by the Office of Hawaiian Affairs to move toward an ‘Aha (constitutional convention) is on the verge of chaos. Anarchy is emerging as the prevailing governance model as we OHA Trustees seem like deer in headlights. The breach of institutional trust by OHA’s CEO in a direct challenge to OHA’s trustees has set an almost irreversible condition of operational dysfunction pitting employees, one against the other, in choosing sides. Some cower in fear for their jobs.

This is the truth as I see it. I am APO an old man at 75 and find it excruciatingly painful to navigate the vestige of a ruptured institution that I have always revered. The core of OHA’s fiduciary duty, founded as a sacred trust for the benefit of native Hawaiians and Hawaiians, is being threatened and undermined by the out of control distraction of nation building. For this reason, I propose that OHA abandon its role in nation building.

A half-dozen complaints have been filed with the state Office of Information Practices asking whether OHA violated the Sunshine Law when it rescinded the letter Crabbe sent to Kerry.

OHA was notified of one of those complaints on Friday. It has 10 business days to respond. Meanwhile, OIP is considering whether to deal with the complaints separately or consolidate them.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

OHA trustees prepare to meet in executive session, away from the public.

Civil Beat obtained one of the Sunshine Law complaints to OIP.

Update

Donovan Preza, a lecturer in geography at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, raises questions about where Crabbe and some of the trustees were on May 9, the date of the letter to rescind. Crabbe and Machado were in Washington, D.C., Preza observes.1

Referring to the Sunshine Law, he wrote, “with a few exceptions, board members are not allowed to discuss board business with each other outside of a social meeting, including by telephone or through e-mail or social media.”

Those exceptions include emergencies or “unanticipated events.”

“As such I am left to infer that the meeting was either an ‘Emergency’ meeting or a meeting for an ‘Unanticipated Event,'” wrote Preza. “If it was an Emergency Meeting, then the board would have to show … that there was ‘an imminent peril to the public health, safety, or welfare.'” 

Under HRS 92-8, one instance of an “unanticipated event” is an event “which members of the board did not have sufficient advance knowledge of or reasonably could not have known about from information published by the media or information generally available in the community.”

Chapter 92 does not address hooponopono, however, or the practice of reconciliation and forgiveness, in executive session. Machado acknowledged that at the beginning of Monday’s meeting, and it is unclear what exactly happened in executive session.

But Machado and Crabbe afterward both credited cultural practitioner Earl Kawaa with his guidance in working out their problems.

Supporters of Crabbe and critics of OHA will be keeping a close eye on the agency as it continues with its nation-building efforts. Several that spoke with Civil Beat privately said there would be repercussions should Crabbe be removed from his job at a later date.

For now, the last word is Crabbe’s.

“We agreed to move forward together in one voice, (on) one path, not just for the benefit of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs but for the future … for the next generations in the presence of today’s leaders,” he said after Monday’s meetings. “That we will be responsive to our community and bring dignity to the process that is before us. And most of all, bring honor to our queen and all that stands for what is righteous and just. Our lahui.”

Videographer Michael Daly called out, “Does the board know if the Hawaiian nation exists?”

Crabbe replied curtly, “That’s all. Mahalo.”

Contact Chad Blair via email at cblair@civilbeat.com or follow him on Twitter at @chadblairCB.

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