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Thursday, January 25, 2001

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OHA juggles native-
rights litigation, audit,
search for headquarters

By Pat Omandam

The Office of Hawaiian Affairs will join the state in defense of a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of OHA and other native programs.

OHA Chairwoman Haunani Apoliona said U.S. Magistrate Kevin Chang on Tuesday granted OHA's motion to intervene in the Patrick Barrett vs. State of Hawaii case, raising to four the number of parties defending the lawsuit.

Last week, Chang allowed the state Council of Hawaiian Homestead Associations, and Ilio'ulaokalani Coalition, a cultural group, to intervene as defendants.

Apoliona told the Legislature's money committees yesterday the case essentially is for the "whole ball of wax" when it comes to OHA, the Hawaiian Homes Commission and native gathering rights.

She added these next 12 months will be critical for the agency. Along with litigation, OHA has begun work on its long-overdue master plan and is actively looking for a new headquarters.

Furthermore, OHA officials anxiously await what's expected to be a critical report by the state Auditor's Office. The report will look at the management of OHA's $375 million investment portfolio, trustee spending and the controversial 1999 reorganization of its administration to four divisions from 11 divisions.

"We don't have the luxury of time, but the urgency is there and we need to remain focused and get the job done," Apoliona said.

The audit is expected sometime next week. Apoliona said she's met with State Auditor Marion Higa to discuss its findings but declined to comment on them until the audit is released. She said OHA will address all the issues raised in it.

Meanwhile, OHA has asked the Legislature to share in the cost of a new $500,000 relational data base that will allow the agency to combine various demographics about Hawaiians to help it decide where to target its programs as well as predict the outcomes, said OHA administrator Randy Ogata.

The budget request is the only increase OHA seeks in an otherwise "no-growth" general fund budget it gets annually from the Legislature. By law, OHA's trust funds can be used by those who are at least half native Hawaiian; the state funding allows all Hawaiians to be served.

Last year's general fund appropriation was $2.5 million, which is about $200,000 less than it received in 1999.

Freshman Rep. Charles DJou (R, Kahaluu-Kaneohe) questioned the need for OHA's ongoing public relations campaign, saying the money could probably help more Hawaiians.

Ogata responded the advertising is a small part of the budget and it's important because it puts a perspective on OHA issues and educates Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians about the agency's work.

State Sen. Fred Hemmings (R, Waimanalo) said he's worried the Barrett case will divert funding from programs. A preliminary injunction hearing is set for March 12.

Apoliona said the agency will continue to defend itself in the lawsuit, which she expects will follow the same track as the Rice vs. Cayetano case -- all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Office of Hawaiian Affairs

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