The last eight Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees elected by native Hawaiians resigned this morning, joined by the appointed ninth trustee, Donald Cataluna.
The board unites at a time of
challenge for Hawaiian
programs and rights
Gov. Cayetano may reappointNomination deadlines near
all trustees for the interim before
the Nov. 7 elections
By Pat Omandam
and Rosemarie Bernardo
The surprise decision by all nine OHA trustees to step down is a sign of solidarity on an often factious board at a time when federal programs and rights for native Hawaiians are being challenged in the highest courts in the state and the country.
"This decision has been a difficult one, and we do it with great humility and compassion for the native Hawaiian people and the trust that we represent," said trustees Haunani Apoliona, Cataluna and Colette Machado.
With the $375 million OHA trust at stake, the board agreed late yesterday to show its beneficiaries and the public that the trust designed to benefit native Hawaiians is more important to the trustees than their own welfare. Trustees have called it the honorable thing to do.
"OHA trustees have always stood firm in upholding the principle of choice by the people," said Apoliona, Cataluna and Machado. "Today we must emphasize that the electoral process is the only way to cure the pain and suffering. The issue of gubernatorial appointment should never overshadow the right of the people to choose their representatives to this trust."
"It is so very difficult for us because we were elected by the people, and we were the last board truly elected by the Hawaiian constituency," Akana said.
"We have not been accused of malfeasance, not been accused of misappropriation of funds, not been accused of any criminal acts.
"But they prosecute and persecute us to the point we must vacate the seats we won in a certified election in order to preserve a trust that we care about," she added.
The first trustee to resign was A. Frenchy DeSoto, who 22 years ago fought hard as a delegate to the 1978 state Constitutional Convention for the creation of OHA.
DeSoto, who served as a trustee for most of the past 20 years, tendered her resignation at last night's meeting and was the last trustee to leave a somber OHA boardroom.
"I don't think I can fight the media or this governor," said DeSoto, who probably will not seek election to her seat this November because of pressing family concerns and the logistics of launching another campaign.
"I'm 72 years old and I'm tired. I don't think I'm quitting. I'd rather resign than get dumped," DeSoto said. "I did the best I could."
OHA Chairman Clayton Hee said he will resign today and seek election to his Oahu seat or to one of the at-large seats that will become vacant because of the resignations.
'Do the right thing'At the end of last night's meeting, Hee thanked his staff for their hard work and told the other trustees he valued their patience.
"This has been very difficult, as we all know, and I wish to tell you how much I appreciate that," he said.
"This is a very individual decision. This is not one where the majority will speak for everyone. This is one where everyone will speak for themselves," Hee said.
The resignations come a day after Gov. Ben Cayetano said he would consider reappointing all of the trustees for the interim period before the Nov. 7 elections.
But the governor continued to warn the board yesterday he would not appoint the five trustees whose terms expired in 2002 if they forced the state to pursue a petition in Circuit Court to seek their removal.
"It seems to me you need to do the right thing, and the right thing is to resign and run for the office," said Cayetano, who said he will also consider non-Hawaiians as appointees if they can help the agency.
U.S. District Judge Helen Gillmor was expected this afternoon to rule whether non-Hawaiians can serve as OHA trustees, which is the next logical step after the U.S. Supreme Court in February overturned lower court rulings in the Rice vs. Cayetano case and opened the way for non-Hawaiians to vote in OHA elections.
'No options offered'Observers say Gillmor could make permanent her Aug. 15 temporary injunction which allows non-Hawaiians to run and, if elected, serve on the OHA board.
So far, Kenneth Conklin, a non-Hawaiian and a plaintiff in that case, has officially filed as an OHA candidate.
Attorneys from OHA and the state met with Circuit Judge Kevin Chang for two hours yesterday afternoon to mediate the dispute over their status as trustees.
But Akana said state Deputy Attorneys General Girard Lau and Charlene Aina would not relent from the governor's position that the trustees resign.
"There were no options offered to us by the governor's office. None," Akana said.
Those who want to run for the four OHA seats whose terms expire this year have until the close of business today to file their nomination papers with the state elections office or the lieutenant governor's office.
Candidates will likely have
10 additional days to
file for their seats
By Pat Omandam
If the five other trustees resign as expected, candidates will have 10 additional days to file for their seats, according to state law.
As of Sept. 1, the potluck list of candidates who have filed -- which include a non-Hawaiian -- for the Hawaii, Kauai, Molokai and one at-large OHA seats include a police detective, a kumu hula, a Hawaiian Home Lands employee, OHA incumbents and a city department spokeswoman.
Brian A. Lee of Alewa Heights, who is part-Hawaiian and self-employed, said he is running because he has not seen a penny of help from the agency in his 35 years of life. Lee unsuccessfully ran for the state Legislature in 1996.
"I'm running for the people who haven't received anything," Lee said. "If (voters) got a lot of things from OHA, then most likely they won't vote for me. But if they have nothing, then they will understand."
Lee joins nine others for the at-large seat now held by trustee Haunani Apoliona. They are Les Among, Gordon Caires, Melvin Kauila Clark, Kenneth M. Conklin, Linda Ka'auwai-Iwamoto, Virginia H. Kalua, Jeff K.N.K. Kapele, Apoliona and Eric K. Tiwanak, a detective with the Honolulu Police Department.
Another likely candidate is Denise Mahealani Cypher DeCosta, a Hawaiian activist and spokeswoman for the city Board of Water Supply, who was expected to file nomination papers today.
Clark, 55, who until recently was executive director of the West Oahu Employment Corp., believes OHA should use half of its $375 million investment portfolio to help Hawaiians in health, housing and education. An Ewa delegate to the Native Hawaiian Convention, Clark said the legal problems facing the current OHA board has ironically drawn them closer together.
"I have to say it's nice that they're unified for once," Clark said. "I think their diversity has divided them instead of allowing their diversity to be used as a strong point to make decisions."
Conklin is a retired Boston public math teacher who moved to Hawaii in 1992 and is among 13 plaintiffs who successfully won a preliminary injunction in U.S. District Court that allows non-Hawaiians to run for OHA.
A final ruling in that case is expected today.
Meanwhile, OHA incumbents on the neighbor islands face head-to-head battles. Big Island incumbent Hannah Springer squares off with perennial candidate Lillian K. Dela Cruz of Hilo, while Kauai incumbent Donald B. Cataluna takes on James K. Torio of Anahola, who recently served on the OHA Salary Commission.
Molokai incumbent Colette Y. Machado of Kaunakakai did not have any opponents as of Sept. 1. Machado, Springer and Apoliona ran as part of a slate of OHA candidates in 1996 under the "Na Lei Lokahi" banner.
A final and certified list of OHA candidates for these four seats is expected to be done this evening, according to the state elections office.
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Rice vs. Cayetano decision
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