Ethics flap threatens
UH project on Maui

University regents are worried that
the seller of the needed land
is one of their colleagues


Sunday, June 22, 2003

» The University of Hawaii Institute for Astronomy approached regent and developer Everett Dowling in 2001 to discuss buying his land in Kula for a new research facility. Dowling did not approach the institute as was stated in an article on Page A1 in yesterday's Star-Bulletin. The 4.5 percent discount on the price was off of the appraised value. The story reported the discount was taken off the asking price.

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin strives to make its news report fair and accurate. If you have a question or comment about news coverage, call Editor Frank Bridgewater at 529-4791 or email him at

The proposal to build a research facility for the University of Hawaii Institute of Astronomy on Maui stalled amid allegations of conflicts of interest yesterday at the UH Board of Regents' monthly meeting.

The institute, which has outgrown an 80-year-old Waiakoa farmhouse on two acres, had looked unsuccessfully for years for a suitable location on Maui that has the necessary water and infrastructure.

In 1998, developer Everett Dowling, who is also a UH regent, proposed a parcel he owned in Kula that not only has water and infrastructure, but also the appropriate zoning.

Dowling sought an opinion last year from the state Ethics Commission. In what the regents described yesterday as a vague ruling, the commission said there would be no conflict of interest if Dowling, in his role as either regent or developer, simply withdrew from discussions or decisions involving the project.

But several regents said a conflict still remained: Dowling owned the land. Dowling offered to sell to UH at a 4.5 percent discount off the $1.8 million asking price.

Yesterday, after Dowling left the room, the regents' meeting exploded.

Sam Callejo, the outgoing head of capital improvements who was just appointed chief of staff to UH President Evan Dobelle, tried to save the project. He noted that if certain project deadlines are met, UH could win a National Science Organization grant worth more than $100 million.

He told the regents that if they had to find a new site and go through zoning applications, he doubted the project could be completed in time to win the NSO money. Without the federal money, the project will likely be much more modest.

Callejo and others, including regent Duane Kurisu, proposed that UH buy the land from Dowling and start clean with a new developer.

But the motion failed, leaving shocked university astronomers in several corners of the room.

The project was placed on the agenda for next month's meeting. The institute and the administration have a few weeks to find another site or another solution.

Michael Maberry, the institute's assistant director for external affairs, said: "Right now we have a farmhouse. We need something that will house labs, machine shops, offices, libraries and an auditorium where we can also have outreach programs."

Maberry said it would be difficult to build such a structure on the existing 2-acre site. He said there is plenty of land upcountry, but no water, which would put development years away.

Ah Quon McElrath, participating in her final meeting as a regent, said: "This whole Maui thing has been clouded. ... There's been hanky-panky."

Setting the scene for what are likely to be skirmishes between Dobelle and Gov. Linda Lingle, two of Lingle's appointees fueled some of the debate about the site and the way the deal was done.

Newly appointed regents Ted Hong and Kitty Lagareta both took jabs at the ethical flaws of the proposal. Hong works in the Governor's Office as the state's chief negotiator, and Lagareta is a public relations executive who is one of the governor's confidantes.

Hong said the Ethics Commission letter set "a minimum level of conduct" and that the regents "should hold to a higher standard" because of public perception.

Lagareta said the deal needed to be ditched because of ethical considerations. She said: "This deal doesn't meet the standards. ... The means do not justify the ends."


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