Deal brings truce to fight over Nuuanu cemetery
Plot and niche owners at Honolulu Memorial Park in Nuuanu and its board have called a truce over allegations of mismanagement and failure to fulfill promises to restore the aging cemetery.
An agreement reached yesterday by the Friends of the Honolulu Memorial Park and board officers, businessman Vic Hejmadi and Councilman Rod Tam called for Hejmadi and Tam to oversee the repair, maintenance and upkeep of the cemetery, including the 119-foot Sanju pagoda and Kinkakuji Temple, which remain boarded up.
The cemetery, overgrown in areas, has been maintained by volunteers and family members of those buried there, since its closure in September 2003.
The original owners, the Richards family, shut down operations, unable to afford the cemetery's upkeep and citing the high cost of maintaining the deteriorating pagoda, which has since been placed on the state Register of Historic Places.
Also under the agreement, Kyoto Gardens Park, which now holds 90 percent stock ownership in the cemetery, has agreed to return the stock to the Richards family in hopes they will donate it back to the Friends of the Honolulu Memorial Park.
If the Richards family agrees, the Friends have agreed to resolve this matter by giving 10 percent of undeveloped land belonging to Honolulu Memorial Park to Kyoto Gardens Park but still retain easement rights. (Kyoto Gardens is the nonprofit organization formed by the original owners to raise money to pay for perpetual care of the cemetery.)
In the interim, Tam and Hejmadi, as representatives of Kyoto Gardens Park, have agreed to maintain the park, provide utilities and obtain insurance for the office building. They also will have access to two bank accounts to assist them in carrying out their fiduciary duties.
At settlement negotiations earlier this week, niche and plot owners said they were betrayed when they heard that Hejmadi and Tam were trying to obtain 10 percent of undeveloped cemetery land.
They say the officers failed in their fiduciary duties and were not entitled to benefit. They said Tam and Hejmadi cut off communications with plot and niche owners for nearly two years and have refused to provide an accounting of money donated to the cemetery for upkeep and repair.
Earlier this week, Tam disputed any wrongdoing alleged by the plot owners that he stood to personally benefit.
If anything, he "overcompensated" when he volunteered to assist the plot and niche owners. "I wholeheartedly believe I haven't broken any laws," he said Wednesday.
Yesterday's agreement, announced by Circuit Judge Randal Lee, who helped mediate, ordered that the books be made accessible to the stakeholders and that assets donated to Kyoto Gardens Park for the benefit of Honolulu Memorial Park and the Friends group be returned to donors who can decide if they want to donate them back to Honolulu Memorial Park.
Lee prohibited any of the parties from making further disparaging remarks against each other or making any future claims in connection with the case, or else face being held in contempt of court. He also noted that there was no evidence that any of the parties had done anything wrong or illegal.
Harsh words were exchanged and hard feelings emerged earlier this week amid reports of ethics complaints against Tam. But Lee said it appeared everyone was looking toward the same resolution.
"The ultimate goal everyone wanted was for money to be released to repair Honolulu Memorial Park so people who own niches can use them and people who have their ancestors there can honor them," Lee said.