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Chancellor says UH officials will participate in Senate hearings

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MANOA, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - University of Hawaii Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple reacted for the first time Tuesday to state senators' plans to hold hearings looking into the Stevie Wonder Blunder and its aftermath. 

Senators plan to call top UH officials including President MRC Greenwood and Apple before their "Committee on Accountability" later this month to answer questions about the failed UH athletics fundraising concert in which UH lost $200,000.   

Apple told Hawaii News Now UH administrators will participate in the hearings.  

"We live in a democracy and they [senators] can do what they want.  I hope that their intentions are good and that they'll feel more confident about the administration and the university when they're done," Apple said. 

"I really think if you look at the decisions we've made, they're now being proven to be the best ones.  But our, quite frankly my outreach to the media has not been good and I really actually want to apologize to the public for my poor communication," Apple added.   

"I'm a malahini [newcomer] but hope to become a kamaaina [longtime Hawaii resident]," Apple said.  Apple took over as UH Manoa chancellor in late June, just days before the Stevie Wonder concert was canceled on July 10. 

Senators also plan to ask for testimony from UH Regents Chairman Eric Martinson as well as former Athletics Director Jim Donovan, who's been re-assigned to a communications job in the Manoa chancellor's office. 

State senators said last week members of the public have been calling and emailing their offices to complain about the way UH officials handled the failed concert that was supposed to raise funds for UH athletics. People are also angry about how UH officials handled the aftermath of the canceled event, senators said. 

State Sen. Donna Kim (D-Moanalua, Aiea, Halawa Valley) will chair the committee, which was approved by State Senate President Shan Tsutsui Aug. 29. 

"The public has been outraged.  That there seems to be no transparency and accountability on the part of the Board of Regents and the University of Hawaii management and leadership," Kim said Wednesday. 

Kim's co-chair for the special investigative committee will be State Sen. Jill Tokuda (D-Kaneohe, Kailua, Enchanted Lake), who chairs the Senate's Education Committee. 

"The last few months have eroded some of that public confidence and public trust.  We need to restore that.  That's definitely important.  Our university system is such a vital part of our communities," Tokuda said Wednesday. 

The hearings will be held the third or fourth week of September, Kim said. 

"I'm very disappointed with the Board of Regents," Kim said. "Because I believe it's their job.  We shouldn't have to be holding these hearings and these meetings.  They should be the ones.  And short of them doing that, then we [state senators] find ourselves in the position that we are forced to do it."   

Besides Kim and Tokuda, the committee will include State Senators Les Ihara, Jr., Ronald Kouchi and Sam Slom.  Since the accountability committee is not a standing senate committee, the senate president assigns its members. 

The special committee last held hearings in March during the legislative session.  That's when they called officials from several state departments, including the Department of Accounting and General Services, to discuss state employee salary over payments and the practice of pension spiking, when public employees run up their overtime to boost their pensions. 

The University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, the union that represents nearly 4,000 UH faculty statewide, said Friday the Stevie Wonder blunder has created a "loss of confidence and respect" for UH and its leaders. 

Kristeen Hanselman, UHPA's associate executive director, worried that the events of this summer could lead to more scrutiny by state legislators and a loss of autonomy. 

Kim and Tokuda said they are not micro managing the UH or taking away the university's power.  The senators said they are giving UH officials a chance to "clear the air," explain their actions and justify financial decisions. 

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