OHA trustee plans to con­test ethics charge

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - HAWAII REPORT - By Ti­mothy Hur­ley thur­ley@starad­ver­tiser.com

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.”

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