The chairwoman of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs on Tuesday addressed dozens of allegations of human resource violations filed against her by OHA employees.

Rowena Akana told reporters at OHA’s Honolulu offices that the allegations, which range from abuse of position to breach of fiduciary responsibilities, are two years old and stem from her aggressive efforts to root out details about OHA’s finances.

She and several other trustees have claimed that OHA is spending too much money, especially on staff additions. They want CEO Kamana’opono Crabbe to leave the agency because, as Akana said Tuesday, “We feel he hasn’t been performing.”

OHA trustees listen to public testimony at their board meeting Tuesday. Most of the meeting was held behind closed doors to discuss allegations against the chairwoman, Rowena Akana. Chad Blair/Civil Beat

Akana confronted a Native Hawaiian beneficiary who is leading a petition drive calling for her removal as chair and the retention of Crabbe. The exchange was captured by Civil Beat’s media partner, KITV.

Kaui Pratt-Aquino, who said her petition has gathered nearly 600 signatories, called the confrontation disappointing. She called Akana a bully and said the exchange reaffirmed her belief that Akana is not a suitable leader for OHA.

Here is the video of the confrontation:

Akana’s side of the story came out while the other trustees met in executive session to address the complaints filed against her. Crabbe requested the meeting, and trustees Robert Lindsey Jr., Colette Machado, Dan Ahuna, Carmen “Hulu” Lindsey and Peter Apo agreed. 

“I’m sure it’s all going to work itself out,” said Akana, who was not permitted to attend the session because she was the subject.

“We are wasting a lot of time with this rubbish,” she said. “It’s rubbish. It’s something that we should internally take care of. I hope they are just going to dispense with it and get on, because we have so many things to do.”

The trustees recessed after more than two hours and took no action, saying they would reconvene Feb. 8.

More Secret Meetings

Another closed-door board meeting is set for Thursday morning, this one to address Crabbe’s contract. Trustees voted 5-4 earlier this month to buy out the remainder of the CEO’s contract, even though he just signed a new, three-year deal in November.

It takes six of the nine trustees to fire the CEO.

Akana said OHA’s budget has increased from $24 million to $50 million in recent years.

“If you go inside you’ll see every day he is hiring more people,” she said of Crabbe. “We were at 197 people a month ago. We’re probably 200-plus now.”

She put the blame squarely on Crabbe, who has been CEO since 2012.

“The budget is supposed to be controlled by trustees,” she said. “But he keeps hiring, which naturally balloons the budget. And he doesn’t listen to trustees. This is one of the main reasons we feel that he needs to go. He thinks that he’s the 10th trustee and he’s not.”

Kaiulani Milham was at the meeting demonstrating her support for an audit of OHA called for by Akana. Chad Blair/Civil Beat

The OHA board under Akana has called for a “forensic” audit, as she put it, by state Auditor Les Kondo. She suggested that some of the trustees who oppose her would not be happy with what the audit might uncover.

Kondo was set to brief the board a week ago, but a majority of trustees walked out of the meeting after Akana said she would not accept public testimony on agenda items involving Crabbe.

Akana made the move unilaterally. Pratt-Aquino launched her online petition drive the next day.

Akana also accuses Crabbe of organizing demonstrations to help him retain his job. She referred to him as OHA’s “administrator,” rather than CEO.

“This administrator keeps calling for these demonstrations, he goes on media calling for all his friends to come and demonstrate, and a lot of people who come here are people who get grants from him or get money from his discretionary funds,” she said.

As for the human resources allegations, Akana said with a laugh, “One is that I gave one employee a stink-eye, a lethal stink-eye. So, what’s the definition of a lethal stink-eye? I don’t now.”

Crabbe’s Response

Crabbe declined to comment on Akana’s statements that he does not listen to trustees or that the board does not approve of his job performance.

He disagreed, however, with her argument that he was organizing demonstrations.

“That is not true,” he said via email.

Crabbe also provided different employee numbers for OHA than those cited by Akana. Here are his numbers: 178 full-time positions for the agency, which were approved by the trustees, of which 157 are currently filled.

As for Akana’s complaints about spending, Crabbe had this response:

The OHA Board of Trustees approves the agency’s total operating budget, which includes our core operating budget. Our core operating budget has remained in the $35 million to $36 million range since I became Ka Pouhana in 2012. Our total operating budget has fluctuated from $42 million in 2012 to $49 million in 2015 and back down to $45 million in the current fiscal year.

Increases to our total operating budget are primarily related to OHA’s added responsibilities as a landowner, particularly after our 2012 acquisitions of our commercial properties, including Kakaako Makai and Na Lama Kukui. With that said, the commercial property budgets are based on their net assets and projected revenues, with no impact on OHA’s trust fund.

The exchange between Akana and Pratt-Aquino was initiated by Akana. She said that she had more than 123,000 people supporting her, in apparent reference to the votes she received in her 2014 re-election.

Pratt-Aquino asked if Akana was behind a bill pending before the Legislature that would allow trustees to appoint a deputy administrator, chief operating officer and corporation counsel by a majority vote, and allow for their removal for cause by a two-thirds vote.

Akana denied she has anything to do with the measure, which was introduced by Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz. But the legislation, if approved, would seem to strengthen the board’s powers.

Pratt-Aquino told reporters later she was concerned about the message the dispute at OHA is sending to the next generation of Hawaiians “when we allow leaders like her to use this opportunity to bully once again and stand her ground and minimize beneficiaries’ concerns.”

About the Author