OHA trustee plans to contest ethics charge
Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Rowena Akana said she plans to fight an ethics charge alleging violations linked to cash she accepted to help pay for legal fees and for using her trustee allowance to buy things such as home cable television services and a home security system.
“I didn’t break any laws. I didn’t do anything I’m ashamed of. And I can defend everything,” Akana said.
Akana, the blunt-talking, 28-year OHA trustee, called the accusations a witch hunt and said she will demand that the Hawaii State Ethics Commission hold a full hearing about the allegations.
The commission’s charging document details 50 counts alleging violations of the Hawaii State Ethics Code, including infractions of the state’s Gifts Law, Gifts Reporting Law and Fair Treatment Law.
The document details how Akana improperly received more than $72,000 from Campbell heiress Abigail Kawananakoa to help pay for her legal battle against OHA from 2015 to 2017.
According to the document, Akana not only accepted the financial assistance from the OHA beneficiary, but she was incomplete and late in reporting the gift and then used her official position to offer Kawananakoa “special treatment” in buying her a
$125 floral gift.
Akana explained that her attorney first told her she didn’t need to report the legal fees as gifts because the trustees counter-sued her in her official capacity. But he later changed his mind, saying it was better for her to be cautious and up-front, she said. That made the reporting late.
Akana said Kawananakoa paid for her legal bills not because she was doing Kawananakoa’s bidding, but because Kawananakoa supports what Akana was doing. She called Kawananakoa
“her trusted friend and ally.”
Akana sued OHA for the way it went about buying the Gentry Pacific Design Center. The $21 million retail center is now home to OHA’s headquarters. The board majority counter-sued Akana after confidential documents were leaked to the media.
Daniel Gluck, Hawaii State Ethics Commission executive director, declined to comment on the specifics of the charge, saying the matter is confidential.
OHA spokesman Sterling Wong said the agency had no comment.
Most of the other counts in the commission’s charging document describe improprieties in the use of Akana’s annual allowance. Those include buying food for parties for herself and OHA personnel, and making political contributions and donations to the Hawaiian Humane Society.
She also is accused of using her allowance to buy an Apple iTunes Gift Card, a home security system and Hawaiian Airlines Premier Club membership, although
The OHA trustee is demanding a hearing on ethics allegations
Akana disputed the club membership. She said she tried to claim it, but the OHA accounting office turned it down.
Akana is also accused of paying $80 a month for her home cable bill over 16 billing cycles, when basic service is less than $50 a month.
The OHA Board of Trustees in February was criticized by the state auditor for its liberal personal allowance spending policy. In a report, the auditor described rules for use of the annual $22,200 trustee allowance as broad and arbitrarily enforced, resulting in many instances of questionable spending.
In response, the board established a moratorium on the allowance while it works on modifying the policy.
Akana said she doesn’t understand why the commission is going after her because her expenditures were permitted under the board’s old policy and were approved by the OHA accounting office.
What’s more, she doesn’t believe the commission has jurisdiction over how OHA spends its trust funds — money set aside for Hawaiians from ceded land revenues.
“They have no business looking at trust funds,” she said. “These are not state funds. They are not their kuleana.”
Akana, who has a history of challenging the status quo at OHA and has tried to force out OHA CEO Kamana‘opono Crabbe, said forces within the agency are trying to bring her down. She said the timing of allegations is tied to election-year politics.
“They’re targeting me,” she said. “I’m a big thorn in their side. I always have been at OHA.”
Once a charge is issued, the accused is given the opportunity to file an answer, and the commission staff will investigate the matter further. The process eventually leads to a public contested case hearing, although a settlement agreement is usually reached beforehand.
That’s what happened when Joe Souki agreed to resign following accusations of sexual harassment, and OHA trustee Peter Apo agreed to pay a $25,000 fine after admitting to using the agency’s connections and resources to benefit his consulting firm.
Akana said she’s going to insist on a hearing with her lawyer at her side, and she will consider challenging the commission in court.
”I’m really, really ticked off,” she said. “They are coming after the wrong trustee. I think they’re out of control.”