Oh, OHA. The sad soap opera that is the Office of Hawaiian Affairs Board of Trustees has an ever-evolving story line that incorporates the best plot points of the old daytime melodramas. Money! Backstabbing! Egos, accusations and angry public arguments!

But this isn’t a soap opera, so when OHA trustees break out the legal arguments and take each other to court, there are actual attorneys’ fees and related costs to be paid by taxpayers. And the billable hours are stacking up.

The initial dispute at the heart of this three-year-old battle was between Trustee Rowena Akana and the majority of the board, which had voted to purchase the $21 million Gentry Pacific Design Center in 2012 to use as its new headquarters. Akana opposed the purchase — she considered the building overpriced and aging, and alleged a fellow board member had a conflict of interest in the deal (that member was later cleared by the Hawaii State Ethics Commission).

On OHA Board of Trustees meeting in Waimea on the Big Island Sept. 10. From right: CEO Kamanao Crabbe, Trustee Colette Machado and Chair Robert Lindsey Jr.
An OHA Board of Trustees meeting in Waimea on the Big Island Sept. 10. From right: CEO Kamanao Crabbe, Trustee Colette Machado and Chair Robert Lindsey Jr. Chad Blair/Civil Beat

Akana’s concerns are reasonable, and her interest in greater transparency for OHA and compliance with the Sunshine Law is laudable. But in pursuit of those goals, she drew the ire of her board colleagues by sharing confidential documents with outside individuals and from the OHA staff for “oppressive” and “harassing” actions toward them.

Akana’s lawsuit against the board is now scheduled to go to trial next Halloween. That gives attorneys representing both her and OHA a year to subpoena, depose and discover to their hearts’ (or bank accounts’) content. Neither plaintiff nor defendants are slumming here: They’ve sewn up representation from some of Honolulu’s top attorneys, including law firms Alston Hunt Floyd and Ing and Bickerton Dang.

Even though some of the lawyers claim to be working at a “very discounted rate,” attorneys who charge $500 an hour can amass a tidy pile of cash even billing at half price. While OHA’s insurance firm is on the hook for some of the bills, some attorneys estimate fees could hit seven figures. And much of that is money that could and should be spent on Native Hawaiian beneficiaries.

Circuit Court Judge Virginia Crandall has gently “suggested” the parties “consider” mediation.

That’s an understatement. All parties involved need to immediately, voluntarily enter binding mediation. There is no need to spend a year preparing for trial over issues that can and should be resolved now through direct discussion facilitated by a professional mediator.

Who will be the bigger party and stand up first, on behalf of Native Hawaiians, to commit to this process — the only pono course of action? The trustees need to summon their better angels, stop the bickering and settle.

A homeless family struggles to get by in Kakaako.
A homeless family struggles to get by in Kakaako. Mark Edward Harris/Civil Beat

Toss Out Eviction Ban. They say you can’t go home again. And in the case of individuals who have been previously evicted from state-run housing in Hawaii, the saying is true.

It’s a lifetime ban, extending to all 6,000 public housing units managed throughout the islands by the state. There are no exceptions.

But the homelessness emergency recently declared by Gov. David Ige has prompted the state to rethink some of the ways it has approached homelessness, and this is one policy that is getting a deserved second look.

The Hawaii Public Housing Authority has given initial approval to a policy change that would let people evicted by HPHA over nonpayment of rent to pay what they owe and reapply for housing. Before the change can be made, Ige must allow HPHA to hold a public hearing on the matter, the group must also consult with its resident advisory board, and then take a final vote before Ige signs off on the change.

Homeless advocates both here and nationally say the current policy is wrongheaded. One expert told Civil Beat, “The best practice is to really look at the mitigating circumstances and not just have a blanket ban.”

If Ige is taking his own emergency declaration as seriously, he’ll approve the public hearing quickly so that this punitive ban can be rescinded and the Housing Authority can get about the business of putting roofs over the heads of more folks in need.

The combined exposure to chlorpyrifos in our food and water doesn't meet safety standards, the EPA says.
The combined exposure to chlorpyrifos in our food and water doesn’t meet safety standards, the EPA says. Flickr: CGP Grey

A Pesticide To Ban. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is considering banning a pesticide widely used in Hawaii agriculture because the combined exposure consumers receive from its presence in food and drinking water exceeds the agency’s safety standards.

Chlorpyrifos is used in farming operations around our islands and the nation. At certain levels of exposure, it has been proven to cause brain damage in kids; it can poison adults as well.

The Hawaii Department of Agriculture can only confirm that 3.5 tons of the pesticide were sold in Hawaii in 2014. It can’t say when and where chlorpyrifos was used, because lax state laws don’t require the agency to collect that data and make it public.

The “Good Neighbor Program” on Kauai asks that farming operations disclose such things, but participation is voluntary. While the program, which may soon be extended to the rest of the state, is better than nothing, let’s be honest: Requiring complete disclosure where toxic pesticides are concerned ought to have been done long ago.

Nearly 3,100 pounds of chlorpyrifos were applied on Kauai over the past 1½ years, according to the Good Neighbor database. But exactly when and where the pesticide was used is anyone’s guess. That sort of information isn’t collected.

The EPA is preparing to accept public input on the proposed ban. If the agency decides to move forward with a ban, it could do so as early as December of next year.

In matters such as this, policy must be dictated by science, rather than the promises of big corporations to be “good stewards of the land and good neighbors of the community.”

As part of the public input process, the data must be heard, and if the EPA takes its middle name seriously, it will follow the data’s advice.

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