When your job is to manage a few hundred million dollars, and to do it under ongoing public scrutiny, everyone has an opinion on how you’re doing. But as trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, we’ve been carrying out our fiduciary duties in a responsible way while advocating for the best interests of all Hawaiians.

Take our desire to be a co-trustee of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. If we are named co-trustee, Hawaiians will get a seat at the decision-making table of how the monument is managed.

Some will have you believe that we’re in it for the money. But there is no money to be made by OHA in Papahanaumokuakea. We will simply be able to help make policy decisions on activity in the monument.

A snorkeler counts fish in Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. OHA seeks a management role in the monument. Courtesy: Claire Fackler/NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries

The proposed expansion of the monument would take areas of the ocean that are under the full jurisdiction of the federal government and put them into the monument area, thus giving the state Department of Land and Natural Resources a say in what happens there, and if OHA becomes co-trustee, giving us a say as well.

Recently a Community Voice article made all sorts of charges of mismanagement against OHA trustees. But I can assure you our job is to ensure our trust remains solvent, and we’re planning for the future in a very prudent manner.

Trustees were the first to recognize the world has changed, and if we do not also change with it, we could quickly exhaust our resources. That’s why trustees and the administration are working to make sure we address this problem. We are taking an in-depth look at our expenses and revenues to ensure the future, while expanding services to Hawaiians.

In fiscal year 2015, we spent $7.6 million on 33 projects serving 8,700 Hawaiians. But we aren’t satisfied by those statistics. We know we have to do more, and we will do more.

In fiscal year 2015, we spent $7.6 million on 33 projects serving 8,700 Hawaiians. We helped them get educations, jobs, become healthier and reach the dream of home ownership. But we aren’t satisfied by those statistics. We know we have to do more, and we will do more.

Have we made mistakes in the past? We haven’t been perfect. But the current Board of Trustees is focused on making sure we make the best decisions for the future. In short, we represent and advocate for change because we have learned from our mistakes and are determined to chart a better future.

It’s not always about the money. For instance, our goal for Mauna Kea is responsible stewardship. We recognize the importance of the mountain. We want to see more done to protect the mountain.

Make no mistake, our top priority is to ensure the responsible stewardship of Mauna Kea and being responsible not just to Native Hawaiians, but to everyone who calls Hawaii home.

But don’t just take my word for it. Our board meetings are streamed online. Or you can come down to observe us. You would find that Waimea Valley is in the black, since the executive director of the valley gives us quarterly updates in our meetings. You would also find we air the good, bad and ugly in public. Like any state agency, we are subject to the Sunshine Law, something I take very seriously.

So if you want to see change at OHA, just watch us. We know we can’t stay stagnant. We are the change.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a current photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to news@civilbeat.org. The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author