Under new leadership, trustees of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs have voted to buy out the contract of CEO Kamana’opono Crabbe.
The vote occurred Tuesday during a closed-door session convened to review Crabbe’s employment, according to Trustee Kelii Akina. Two other trustees confirmed the action. Civil Beat agreed not to identify them because it was the only way to get confirmation of important information.
The move to get rid of Crabbe comes barely six months after he signed a new three-year contract.
Then-Board Chair Robert Lindsey Jr. said at the time, “The most important decision we make for this organization is selecting its CEO. Our hope is that this decision inspires the confidence and support of our employees and beneficiaries.”
Lindsey lost his chairmanship last month when a coalition of five trustees voted to replace him with Rowena Akana.
The ascension of Akana, a former chair, was aided by the November election of Akina, who defeated longtime incumbent Haunani Apoliona. Both have been involved in legal battles with OHA.
Crabbe was appointed OHA’s chief executive officer in January 2012. His annual salary is $150,000. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Akana released this statement after being contacted by Civil Beat: “This is a confidential personnel matter that is in the hands of the attorneys. I have no further comment at this time.”
It’s not clear when Crabbe might leave his post, how much it might cost OHA to buy out the remainder of his contract or whether he will fight the board’s action.
A day after the vote to buy out his contract, Crabbe attended a special OHA board meeting Wednesday. It was a contentious session convened to address litigation involving the trustees.
One lawsuit is Akana v. OHA, in which Akana sued her eight fellow trustees over allegations of breach of fiduciary duties. The case, which is in mediation, also involves a countersuit from the eight other trustees alleging it was actually Akana who breached her duties.
Two of the trustees named in the lawsuits — Apoliona and Oswald Stender — are no longer on the board.
The other lawsuit was Akina et al. v. State, which involved Akina suing to stop OHA’s support of a nation-building effort.
Akana, eight other current and former trustees, Gov. David Ige, former Gov. John Waihee and others were named as defendants in the Akina suit, which was filed before Akina joined OHA.
The Akina suit was dismissed after the OHA-funded group Nai Aupuni opted to hold an aha, or governing convention, without elected delegates last year. But there remains the question of how to pay attorneys’ fees. It’s unclear how much the fees amount to or who is responsible for paying them.
“When one claims to ‘speak pono,’ one must also ‘act pono.’” —Haunani Apoliona
On Wednesday, before the board again went into executive session, former Trustee Apoliona spoke up.
She said that trustees Akina, Lei Ahu Isa, Carmen Lindsey and John Waihee IV (the governor’s son) were “derelict” in their responsibilities because they voted to name Akana chair — even though 1st Circuit Court Judge Virginia Crandall already ruled in June 2015 as part of the legal battle that Akana had breached her fiduciary duties by disclosing privileged and confidential information.
“I share this simple reminder,” said Apoliona. “When one claims to ‘speak pono,’ one must also ‘act pono.’”
Pono is the Hawaiian word for goodness, uprightness or morality, or following the correct or proper procedure.
Apoliona urged her former colleagues to shine a “bright light on ethics” for the sake of OHA’s “well-being and survival.”
“They chose to countersue me, and that is how this bill has run up to the fees that it has — hiring a lawyer at $700-plus an hour.” —Rowena Akana
Trustee Dan Ahuna then read aloud a letter from Stender that reiterated the court’s finding on Akana. Stender said it was “imperative” that the board sanction and remove Akana from her post in order to “correct a wrong,” one that Stender estimated was costing OHA close to $1 million.
That prompted Akana to explain her side of the dispute, one she said began five years ago with allegations of her leaking confidential information regarding OHA’s purchase of the Gentry Pacific Design Center. The building, which leases retail space, is now OHA’s headquarters.
Akana explained how she had filed a complaint with the state Ethics Commission accusing Apoliona of a conflict of interest, as Apoliona was at the time of the purchase a member of the Bank of Hawaii Board of Directors. She also alleged that Apoliona violated OHA’s own governing rules.
Akana said the OHA board tried to stop her from going to court over a possible violation of the state’s Sunshine Law on open records. She has tried to make public board deliberations regarding the purchase, which she has suggested was a bad deal, but OHA’s lawyers have argued that some of the information is confidential.
“When they could have negotiated many, many times, they chose not to,” said Akana. “Instead they chose to countersue me, and that is how this bill has run up to the fees that it has — hiring a lawyer at $700-plus an hour.”
Attorneys in the OHA boardroom Wednesday included former Hawaii Supreme Court Justice Robert Klein, the board counsel; Paul Alston, representing OHA in the Akana case; and Jim Bickerton, representing Akana in the same case.
Apoliona interrupted Akana to accuse her of defaming her, saying the state Ethics Commission had cleared her of any potential violations. Akana replied that Apoliona was not allowed to address the board.
Finally, Klein advised the board members to move into executive session, which they did. The closed-door session lasted several hours.
Before that happened, Akina told board members that the Ethics Commission had also determined that there was no conflict in him serving on the OHA board, even though he is president and CEO of the nonprofit Grassroot Institute of Hawaii.
It was in his capacity as head of Grassroot, which promotes individual liberties, free markets and limited government, that Akina sued OHA and the state.
Akina added that he would recuse himself from any discussion over legal fees regarding his own lawsuit.
The OHA board is scheduled to meet again next week. The agenda had not been posted, but there will likely be a call for yet another executive session.