What’s Going on at OHA

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Photo: Brendon Kalei'aina Lee

Over the last two years the Office of Hawaiian Affairs has seen some dramatic changes. The agency has seen the departure of over a century of institutional knowledge when more than half of the staff left either by choice or an elimination of position due to a reorganization that was not supported by former chair Trustee Colette Machado.

Even with the delegated authority to institute an organizational wide reorganization, the CEO of OHA was insistent on having the Board of Trustees approve the suggested changes. The BOT approved the proposed budget changes necessary for the reorganization, though it faced harsh criticism by several Trustees and failed to be approved in its first vote. After the reorganization OHA saw the departure of several key positions that remain vacant. General Counsel, Chief Advocate, Public Policy Manager, and Land Director, not to mention the other 40% of open positions at OHA that remain vacant.

In 2021, a good portion of the grants awarded from OHA were returned. The common theme seemed to be a process that awardees deemed too difficult to navigate. When nonprofits decide to return much needed funding, there is an issue that needs to be looked at. While the state audit from 2018 suggested much needed improvements to the granting process at OHA, a snap reaction to the far other end of the spectrum has only hurt our beneficiaries.

While OHA spent time and money on an unsuccessful continued attempt to get the legislature to amend the law prohibiting residential projects in Kakaʻako Makai, continued plans for some form of development of these lands continue behind closed doors without the input of the entire Board of Trustees and in violation of its own bylaws.

While I was ultimately ruled out of order by Trustee Hulu Lindsey, and that ruling was upheld by the BOT, the facts remain that this decision does not comport to the articles set forth in the BOT bylaws. Article VIII. Committee of the Board, A.1. states the following:

Committee on Resource Management. The committee shall:

  1. develop policies and criteria for OHA’s land acquisitions, dispositions, development, management, and the use of real property in which OHA has an interest;
  2. develop policies relating to OHA’s real estate asset allocation, desired returns, and balancing OHA’s real estate portfolio including legacy lands, corporate real property, programmatic lands and investment properties;
  3. oversee the use and condition of OHA’s real estate and develop policy for the proper use and stewardship of such real property;
  4. develop policies and programs for OHA’s ownership, financing and development of real property, including capital improvements, debt management, economic development, investment and spending policies and forms of ownership for OHA’s real property.
  5. oversee the performance of OHA’s rights and obligations with respect to real estate not owned by OHA in its own name;

HRS 92-2.5 allows for the formation of Permitted Interaction Groups (PIG) that allows for up to four Trustees to meet in private to investigate a topic. However, this PIG was approved by the Board and NOT the Committee on Resource Management as stipulated in the BOT bylaws.

In a public statement, Trustee Akaka stated the PIG was formed to accelerate the process. Transparency, accountability, and inclusion should never be sacrificed for the sake of speed.

We will get into more detail about this next month. If you care about OHA, if you care about how OHA resources are being managed, stay tuned.