Colette Machado has returned to the seat of power at a state agency supporting Native Hawaiians.

Trustees at the Office of Hawaiian Affairs on Thursday voted to appoint Machado, a longtime trustee and former chairwoman, to lead the agency’s board.

“I am grateful that my fellow trustees have given me a second chance to lead them,” Machado said in a statement. “My goal is bring stability to the agency and rebuild our hale. We need to work together at the board level and with staff – embrace one and another with aloha so we can move forward for our Lahui.”

Machado replaces Trustee Rowena Akana, who was booted out of the job last week after only two months in the position.

Machado is OHA’s fourth board chair since early December. Robert Lindsey Jr. was replaced by Akana at that time, while Trustee Lei Ahu Isa served as interim chair before Machado’s election.

Trustee Dan Ahuna was named vice chairman.

OHA trustee Colette Machado2. 4 jan 2017
OHA Trustee Colette Machado is again running the agency’s board. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The latest development at OHA came on the same day that a lawsuit was filed in 1st Circuit Court seeking a judge’s ruling on the contract of the agency’s chief executive officer, Kamana’opono Crabbe.

Abigail Kawananakoa, an OHA trust beneficiary and Campbell Estate heiress, alleges that a three-year contract for Crabbe was signed by Lindsey last summer without the board’s approval.

Through attorneys Jim Bickerton and Bridget Morgan, Kawananakoa released a statement that reads in part:

The manner in which the executive director’s contract was handled reflects at best indifference and at worst hostility to legal standards by OHA’s former chair Robert Lindsey and its current attorney Robert G. Klein.

The trustees forfeit the confidence of their beneficiaries by making any issue one of self‐interest, personalities and alliances rather than just adhering to the law.

The status of the executive officer’s contract is a legal question that a judge must decide. That is the correct place to resolve this egregious problem.

OHA, Crabbe and Lindsey are named as defendants.

Bickerton said in the same press release that the suit asks Crabbe and Lindsey “to refund the monies paid out to Crabbe since his earlier contradict expired in June 2016.”

 In a statement, Crabbe said, “As this is a pending legal matter, I have no comment.”

Bickerton is also Akana’s attorney in a separate lawsuit filed several years ago against the eight other trustees. OHA, represented by attorney Paul Alston, countersued and the matter is in mediation.

Both lawsuits allege breach of fiduciary duties, and two of the trustees named are no longer with OHA.

Under Akana, trustees voted to buy out Crabbe’s contract, which is for three years and $450,000. The matter is in negotiations.

CEO Kamana’opono Crabbe at the OHA board meeting Feb. 2. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat

Akana herself sought “a declaratory judgement” similar to Kawananakoa’s lawsuit as recently as last week.

In yet another important development this week at OHA, trustees on Wednesday approved a special audit proposed by Trustee Kelii Akina.

Civil Beat’s media partner KITV reported that the audit “will go beyond OHA’s routine audits and seeks to identify areas of ‘waste, abuse and fraud in procurement,’ among other purposes.”

OHA is not unused to controversy, but its current struggles have brought a heightened level of chaos to the agency.

Many beneficiaries have pleaded with the trustees to settle their differences and work together for the betterment of Hawaiians.

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