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Wednesday, June 20, 2001



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Morale low
among OHA staff,
report finds

But some trustees say the
survey is simply a retaliation
by disgruntled workers


By Pat Omandam
pomandam@starbulletin.com

The next administrator of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs will have to deal with a staff morale that has hit rock bottom, according to a confidential in-house survey that sheds some light on the inner workings of the 21-year-old state agency.

"Morale at OHA is so low, I would say that there is no morale," said one respondent.

"With many of us, we are rudderless, no direction or just spinning in circles," said another. "People won't speak up, or out, as they're afraid of being on the 'hit list,' too."

A copy of the June 14 survey report was obtained by the Star-Bulletin.

The survey, conducted April 9-12, was authorized by OHA Chairwoman Haunani Apoliona and Vice Chairman Donald Cataluna after one OHA employee openly supported Administrator Randy Ogata's continued leadership at an April 5 board meeting on the recruitment and hiring of a new administrator.

Since one OHA employee expressed herself, the two trustees gave the same opportunity to all OHA staff. Of the 78 employee surveys sent via staff e-mail, 32 people, or about 41 percent, responded.

The results are highly critical of Ogata. It shows some believe there is an atmosphere of favoritism, suspicion and accusation that stifles the agency's efforts to help native Hawaiians.

The 42-page document shows 82 percent of respondents gave Ogata a poor rating on his overall performance.

Another 8 percent gave him a good or satisfactory rating.

Ogata could not be reached for comment yesterday. OHA spokesman Ryan Mielke said Ogata has received a copy of the report, but does not expect him to give public comment, as has been his practice on other issues.

The four-page survey also asked employees to rate overall staff morale and the performance of OHA's managers.

The responses point to recent departures of highly qualified individuals and an administration reorganization as the key reasons for the morale problem.

Respondents say some supervisors warned staff not to speak to certain individuals or walk by their desks.

Many were told not to go up to the trustees' 12th-floor offices unless cleared by a supervisor.

"Employees are moved about the office like cattle from their desks," one person commented.

Many respondents were also critical of OHA's contentious board of trustees.

"Politics is the ho'opilau, the foulness of the swamp, that is smothering the breath of hope from staff and keeping us from being a part of building a productive, fulfilling life for our Hawaiian people," wrote one person.

Trustees Clayton Hee and Rowena Akana defended Ogata and criticized the survey, especially since Ogata's contract expires on June 30 and he has not reapplied for the post.

Hee said the timing of the survey's release is an attempt to influence trustees when they vote tomorrow on a new administrator from among six finalists.

Akana told Apoliona the survey was inappropriate because state law requires the board to evaluate the administrator, not the OHA staff. Instead, disgruntled staff have used this opportunity to retaliate against their superiors, she said.

"I do not accept your assessment and your compilation as fact," said Akana, who called for a vote of confidence on the chair.

Apoliona said to presume that board leadership knew what the staff were going to say about Ogata is false, saying the comments could have gone the other way.

"We had no idea of what comments would come back, how many people would respond and what would be said," she said.

"There's no way we could have predicted."

Apoliona said the survey was strictly voluntary, and stressed efforts were made to protect respondents' identities.

She said the results were compiled by one person after hours to ensure accuracy. No trustees ever saw the results until the report was released, she said.

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