Friday, April 20, 2001

Sometimes outrage
is the right reaction

The issues: Three disparate issues
surfaced in the last few days that
have one thing in common -- they
can make your blood boil.

The University of Hawaii's Board of Regents is being sued over the secrecy with which the $442,000 salary for the new president was decided. Leaders of the state Legislature have announced that chairmen of conference committees can kill proposed bills without taking a vote. A federal judge in Atlanta has prevented publication of a book titled "The Wind Done Gone," the tale of "Gone With The Wind" as seen through the eyes of a slave.

Outrageous. That's what these three proceedings have in common. In the first, the members of the Board of Regents have acted as if they own the university, which they don't. The people of Hawaii own it. In the second, the leaders of the state Legislature have acted as if they were lunas back on the plantation. In the third, the federal judge has acted as if the First Amendment to the Constitution does not guarantee free speech.

Secrecy prevailed in Dobelle's selection

Common Cause Hawaii, the Hawaii Society of Professional Journalists and Mamo Kim, a graduate student, have sued the UH Board of Regents to force its members to explain how and why they decided to pay the incoming president of the university what seems like the astronomical sum of $442,000.

The attorney for the plaintiffs, Carl Varady, said the salary for Evan Dobelle, who is scheduled to take office on July 1, was set behind closed doors in executive session in violation of the state's law on open meetings. He contended this sum would be "an expenditure of public money for a public purpose by a public board."

The university's counsel, Walter Kirimitsu, defended the secrecy. With a touch of arrogance, he said: "I see absolutely no problems in procedure in the decisions that were made by the Board of Regents."

From the beginning, the secrecy in the search for and hiring of the new president has been malodorous. This decision on salary is but the latest outrage, and the suit brought to the Circuit Court is entirely justified.

The Board of Regents should be made to understand that the University of Hawaii belongs to the people of Hawaii, who have both a right and a need to know how critical decisions are made. More to the point, the $442,000 comes out of the wallets of the taxpayers, and they have a right to know why it's being spent.

That salary is a 264 percent increase over the salary of the incumbent, Kenneth Mortimer. That makes the striking public school teachers' demand of a 22 percent raise look reasonable and Governor Cayetano's offer of 14 percent look like peanuts.

Indeed, that number is almost twice what the president of the United States gets and four times what the governor makes. For that kind of money, Dr. Dobelle won't need an airplane to move to Hawaii. He should be able to walk on water across the Pacific.

Minority of one rules conference committees

The speaker of the House, Calvin Say, and the president of the Senate, Robert Bunda, have taken it upon themselves to rule that either co-chairman of a conference committee seeking to reconcile differing versions of proposed legislation can kill a bill on his own authority. Even if a majority of the conference committee votes to approve the bill, a co-chairman could throw it in the ash bin.

Say and Bunda evidently fail to understand that Hawaii is supposed to be a working democracy, not a throwback to the dictatorial days of the plantation. Ed Case, a Democrat, asserted that the Say-Bunda ruling "lights a fire under the kind of last-minute deal-making for which the Legislature is so despised publicly." (An exposition of Case's view is here.)

Galen Fox, the Republican leader in the House, called the Say-Bunda decision "outrageous," a description to be applauded. He appeared, however, to give Say and Bunda a graceful way out, saying he hoped they would give "this incredible change further thought." They should grab the chance.

First Amendment is gone with the wind

In Atlanta, District Judge Charles Pannell has ruled that Alice Randall's novel, which sees the Deep South through the eyes of a mulatto half-sister of Scarlett O'Hara in the days before the Civil War, infringes on the copyright of Margaret Mitchell's book.

Nonsense. Authors, and their heirs in this case, can only copyright words, not ideas. For Randall, an African American, to look at the same times, places and events as Mitchell would seem to be an obvious exercise of the freedom of speech. The Mitchell Trust sought to stop publication of the book because they feared it would compete with authorized sequels to "Gone With the Wind."

Randall garnered support from established writers such as Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, who told Reuters that "to crush the artistic rights of an African-American writer seems to me not only reckless but arrogant and pathetic."

The executive vice president of Houghton Mifflin, the publishers, said the judge's decision would be appealed. Wendy Strothman said: "Publishing rests on the two principles of copyright and the First Amendment." An appellate court should agree and permit the author to prevail.

The prominent historian Arthur Schlesinger told the Associated Press: "I can't believe the book will be suppressed," adding: "The Mitchell estate is doing a wonderful job of advertising for Houghton Mifflin." It would be poetic justice if the Mitchell Trust helped "The Wind Done Gone" to hit the bestseller list someday.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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