Saturday, April 21, 2001


UH sued for
secrecy in president's
salary hike

The suit says the raise was
decided without public input

By Leila Fujimori

A lawsuit filed yesterday alleges that the University of Hawaii Board of Regents decided to substantially raise the university president's salary without public hearing or input, violating the state's open-meetings or sunshine law.

The Hawaii Society of Professional Journalists, Common Cause Hawaii and Mamo Kim, a graduate student leader, filed suit in Circuit Court against the University of Hawaii and the Board of Regents.

"The law is not designed to protect decisions from public scrutiny," said Carl Varady, attorney for the complainants. "It's supposed to encourage public participation and scrutiny."

He called the salary of the new president "an expenditure of public money for a public purpose by a public board."

The state's open-meetings law requires government agencies to open to the public discussions, deliberations, decisions and actions that involve public policy.

The complaint alleges that prior to Evan Dobelle's appointment as UH president on March 12, the board set his salary at $442,000 -- the highest in the UH system -- in a closed-door executive session. The current president, Kenneth Mortimer, earns $167,000.

Varady says the law enumerates the specific reasons for executive sessions, but salary is not one of them.

The university's counsel, Walter Kirimitsu, disagrees.

"I see absolutely no problems in procedure in the decisions that were made by the Board of Regents," he said.

Kirimitsu said school policy prevents him from commenting on the specifics of the case because of the pending litigation.

No regents could be reached for comment.

The suit is the first filed against the Board of Regents by the Society of Professional Journalists, although it has sued other government organizations for violating the state's open-meeting law.

At a regents meeting yesterday, four students asked the board to place the matter on their agenda for their next regular meeting. After going into executive session, the board declined the request.

Kim said several students from many different campuses support her position. She said although the salary increase for the new president is shockingly high, that is not the issue.

"My gripe is that we weren't given an opportunity to make that decision if the decision is a sound one," Kim said. "We have no idea, no input."

Kim said that during the recent University of Hawaii Professional Assembly strike, the state said there was no money to raise lecturers' and other faculty's pay.

"It's just hard to swallow the line that they have no money when the people you're telling that to are just eking out an existence," she said.

Ka Leo O Hawaii
University of Hawaii

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