Hawaii’s World

By A.A. Smyser

Thursday, May 20, 1999

New trustees won’t
be permanent

BERNICE P. Bishop Estate's temporary trustees don't want their jobs permanently. They will let the probate court decide their pay.

Thus they alleviate concern of self-interest behind the changes they will make at the top of the estate Princess Pauahi created to educate Hawaiian children.

Self-interest, sadly, heavily clouded the work of their immediate predecessors. The ousted majority had an attitude of "to the victor belong the spoils."

Recognizing their own inadequate qualifications for the trusteeships paying over $800,000 a year, these mostly political appointees developed a cover concept of being five CEOs -- each running one aspect of estate operations.

Five chief executive officers meant five cooks spoiling the broth and putting old pals on the payroll. Under direction of the probate court, the temporary trustees have ended that injurious process.

In the future, Bishop Estate will have a single CEO, in the pattern of corporations everywhere. While the search for him or her goes on, a temporary single leader is in place with the title of COO or chief operating officer, normally No. 2 to the CEO.

His role is to effectively carry out policy directives from the trustees or be fired. The board will leave implementation to him and his staff. The James Campbell Estate, a noncharitable trust benefiting Campbell's all part-Hawaiian heirs, long has had this clear chain of command.

A former Campbell administrator, Oswald Stender, was a fluke nonpolitical appointee to the Bishop board, named to break a deadlock. Stender was pretty much shunned by other trustees when he suggested improvements. A jump to his side by Gerard Jervis still left a spoils system majority in charge.

Stender in 1993 expressed his vision for the future of the Bishop Estate. It segregated revenue-raising from school administration. It put the schools under a distinguished international board.

Stender's vision of making "Hawaiians the most well-educated, culturally rich, socially responsible and successful people in the world today" by the estate's 150th birthday in 2034 only antagonized his co-trustees. Lokelani Lindsay was still muttering about it after her ouster.

IDEALISTIC? Impractical? Improbable? At least Stender's thoughts merited discussion instead of a cold shoulder. They still do.

Down the line we can look to the Kamehameha Schools getting two or three times their current $100-million-a-year budget allocation. Mainland trusts usually disburse an amount equal to 5 percent of assets each year. That likely would be at least $300 million under a realistic appraisal of KS/BE's worth.

Liquid assets ballooned after mandatory home-site lease-land conversions were authorized by a state law that was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"Stealing," the old trustees cried, even as some $1.2 billion flowed into their treasury. The real stealing came when they held down on the flow of revenue to today's Hawaiian children.

Bishop Estate Archive

A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.

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