UH regents OK
Maui land deal
An astronomy center plan
proceeds despite criticisms of conflict
The University of Hawaii Board of Regents voted yesterday to purchase land from former regent Everett Dowling and hire his company to develop a research center on the slopes of Haleakala, despite criticism that the project was marred by a conflict of interest.
Dowling's company Kulamalu Science LLC would plan, develop and construct a world-class office and laboratory for the Institute for Astronomy's Advanced Technology Research Center in Kula, and the university would purchase an adjoining 1.4-acre lot for future expansion, under an agreement presented by Sam Callejo, UH chief of staff.
The university will pay Kulamalu about $7.5 million for the two acres and to construct a two-story, 17,000-square-foot research building. The funds were set aside in 2002 as part of the university's capital improvement budget but excludes furniture and scientific equipment costs.
Dowling resigned from the board July 3 after allegations of conflicts of interest arose from the proposed deal, despite an opinion from the state Ethics Commission that there would be no conflict if Dowling, in either role of regent or developer, withdrew from discussions or decisions involving the project.
Ted Hong was the only regent to vote against the project, citing flaws in the planning process, but he encouraged his colleagues to vote for the "good" project.
"I didn't feel I could vote yes," said Hong in an interview after the vote. "I wanted to send a message to Institute of Astronomy this wasn't the way to go."
Hong accused the institute of cutting corners, being focused on the project without regard to the cost, and dismissing the process a public project demands.
"I'm not going to put up with it," Hong said. "They had better not cut corners again and expect the board to bend over backwards."
Callejo acknowledged that the institute met with Kulamalu for preliminary planning to provide a complete package to the board before the regents approved it.
"Hong felt we shouldn't have spent the money before going to the board," said Callejo. "That was a lesson learned for us, and we won't do that again. We will follow the process."