Apple, Sheriff answer questions from State Senate panel in UH probe

Wonder Blunder hearings get heated

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple defended his decision to remove Jim Donovan as athletics director during a seven-hour long hearing before a State Senate committee during which UH regents admitted they should have been more public in their discussions about the Stevie Wonder blunder.

Apple said he received a letter signed by 43 of 44 UH coaches saying they did not want  Donovan to return as UH AD after Donovan had been put on paid leave July 11 during the investigation into the failed Stevie Wonder concert.

Senators asked Apple why he did not keep Donovan on as athletics director until March of next year when his $240,000-a-year AD contract expires.

"My call. I take full responsibility. I did not want to do that. Because I didn't think. Quite frankly, I was worried about whether some of our coaches would stay," Apple told the State Senate Committee on Accountability.

Donovan had threatened to sue UH for defamation if he wasn't restored to his old job. Apple said once he told Donovan that would not happen, Apple received a letter from Donovan's lawyer that proposed to resolve the lawsuit threat by buying out his AD contract for seven months at his current pay rate of $19,000 a month.

"Pay his attorney's fees of $40,000. And give him a five-year contract as vice chancellor at UH Manoa reporting to Chancellor Apple at $240,000 per year," said Apple, as he read from Donovan's lawyer's demand letter.

Instead, UH agreed to reassign Donovan to a communications job that will pay him $200,000 a year for three years and paid his legal fees of $30,000.@

Regents Vice Chair James Lee later testified he took the position that Donovan should not get the settlement approved by Apple. But the board did not reverse the decision during a five-hour long closed-door meeting on Aug. 22.

Lee said the regents discussed the failed concert during executive session behind closed doors at their July 19 meeting, but senators pointed out that item was not listed on the agenda for discussion, as required by the state's sunshine law.

"I have serious concerns that discussions are happening in violation of open meetings laws," said State Sen. Donna Kim, chair of the committee looking into the failed concert and other UH management issues. "It seems that the board is not being transparent or open."

"There's no intent to do that senator," Lee said.

"We really need to do a better job," Lee later added, noting the regents are an unpaid, volunteer board.

Kim said UH President M.R.C. Greenwood and other top UH officials "continuously" tell regents they could face a lawsuit or some deal could "blow up," in an attempt to get the regents to approve high-paid settlements and deals.

UH Regent Coralie Matayoshi, a lawyer and head of the Hawaii Chapter of the American Red Cross, told senators "We've seen it and we've expressed some frustrations."

Kim said, "I think it's time the board takes back its accountability."

"I agree," Matayoshi told senators.

Senators also provided a letter from a lawyer with the state Attorney General's office that said Donovan's settlement amounted to a settlement and not an agreement, as UH officials claimed.  UH policy requires the full Board of Regents to approve any settlement worth $500,000 or more.  Donovan's case was not settled by a vote of the regents.  UH officials claimed the Donovan agreement included only $30,000 in lawyer's fees, but the AG's lawyer said since it also included a three-year appointment for Donovan at a $200,000-plus-a-year job, it amounted to a settlement worth more than $500,000.

UH Stan Sheriff Center Arena Manager Rich Sheriff told state senators he was "surprised" when UH put him on leave after the university canceled its Stevie Wonder concert on July 10.

"To me, nobody should have been put on leave. We should have worked together," Sheriff told the State Senate panel investigating the failed concert.

The UH put Sheriff and Donovan on leave with pay July 11, pending an investigation into the bungled concert. Donovan oversaw the concert and Sheriff was the UH's point man with its promoter, Bob Peyton. UH later allowed both men to return to the UH payroll on Aug. 13, after UH finished a fact finding probe of the failed event, and found both men had committed no criminal wrongdoing.

Sheriff said the Stevie Wonder concert was the first show he worked on with Peyton, who had promoted events in Hawaii for about 40 years.

"My superiors said they had checked out Peyton, and had good reviews," Sheriff said. He told senators no one spoke about Peyton's financial problems, which included a recent Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy and foreclosure on his Kailua home filed in the fall of 2011.

Peyton's lawyer said the promoter has been hospitalized at Castle Medical Center since Aug. 17 and in recent weeks had a leg amputated. Peyton was unable to appear before the Senate panel, his lawyer said.

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