Five on OHA
board call for
Chairwoman Rowena AkanaBy Pat Omandam
is targeted along with trustees
Trask and Hao
It's three strikes and you're out for the Office of Hawaiian Affairs leadership, whose failed third attempt to get a majority of trustees to agree on an interim Kauai trustee earlier this week signaled a power shift on the factious board.
Five trustees have called for a reorganization on Monday, in which they'll attempt to oust from power OHA Chairwoman Rowena Akana, along with majority members Mililani Trask and Louis Hao.
Two trustees who are currently in Akana's majority group -- Clayton Hee and Hannah Springer -- have jumped sides to form a new faction with trustees Haunani Apoliona, Colette Machado and A. Frenchy DeSoto, whom Akana replaced as chairwoman in November 1998.
Until recently, Springer was board vice chairwoman under Akana. Hee was budget and finance committee chairman until he was removed last September.
"I think that the five of us agreed that the change needed to be sought," said DeSoto, who added the group has not yet decided who will chair the board.
If they are successful, this would be the fourth change in board leadership in as many years. The meeting is at 10 a.m. Monday at OHA headquarters.
Akana said yesterday that Machado, Apoliona and DeSoto have tried to unseat her ever since she became chairwoman. She said the trio gained some ground this year when they sided with other trustees to remove Hee as budget chairman and "poke a hole" in her vision for the board.
"Don't let anyone be fooled that this is about leadership," Akana said. "It is not about poor leadership. It is about good leadership, and that's why I'm being removed."
Akana said the reason for the shake-up is because the Hawaiian agency was making independent headway on Hawaiian issues in the federal government that run counter to plans by the Democratic Party of Hawaii and Hawaii's congressional delegation.
OHA recently hired its own federal liaison to monitor Hawaiian issues in Washington, D.C., and the board leadership has taken several trips there to lobby on issues. And trustees have announced plans next spring for a puwalu, or gathering, of a broad-based group of Hawaiians to discuss self-determination issues.
"And while at the federal level we have created a window for Hawaiians to walk through, this has made many people in high places very nervous because the chairman of OHA now is not aligned with a political party," said Akana, who was expected to hold a news conference today to further discuss the issues.
Trask said no one should be surprised at the turn of events, which she had expected to occur before Christmas. Trask believes the recent controversy over her remarks about U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye -- which surfaced a month after she made the disparaging comments at a committee meeting -- is an example of this "smear campaign."
Trask added that the five seeking reorganization all want to "play ball" and let the Democratic Party call the shots in Washington.
"I don't anticipate that they'll be any different in the way the board does business," Trask said. "I don't think they'll be able to build anything that looks like trust."
OHA watchdog and activist Lela Hubbard said news of a fourth OHA chairman in four years shows "that OHA is pretty dysfunctional." Ideally, Hubbard would like to see a restored Hawaiian nation absorb the semiautonomous agency in hopes of making it better.
"There are no checks and balances, and that's the problem," Hubbard said.
Office of Hawaiian Affairs