UH regents threaten accountability panel with criminal penalties - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

UH regents threaten accountability panel with criminal penalties for leaking info

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MANOA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

The University of Hawaii Board of Regents required an accountability task force of volunteers to sign a confidentiality agreement that threatens them with possible criminal or civil legal action if they divulge information from the work, deliberations or records of the group. It's a move State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim (D-Moanalua, Aiea, Kalihi Valley) called "chilling" and another example of "regents cloaking themselves in secrecy."

The accountability panel is made up of five regents and four experts from the accounting and auditing industry, and is charged with evaluating the UH's operational and financial controls in the aftermath of the failed UH Stevie Wonder concert. 

The regents hired accounting firm KMH on a contract, not to exceed $50,000, to do the leg work of the group, regents said. 

The confidentiality covenant signed by members of the group said they agreed to keep their group's work confidential. 

The agreement also said, "Board of Regents' Chair Eric Martinson has been designated as the public and media contact for the Task Group and I will not make any disclosures relating to the Task Group Work and I will direct all such requests for disclosures and any other inquiries or questions to Regents' Chair Martinson." 

Martinson was not immediately available for comment Thursday afternoon, according to his spokesman. Martinson has not done extended interviews with any reporters following the failed concert, communicating instead in a few brief written statements.   

The agreement said a panel member can be removed from the group for breaching confidentiality. 

Under a clause called "penalties for violations," the agreement said, "I further understand that any breach of the confidentiality obligations described in this Confidentiality Covenant may result in civil and criminal penalties pursuant to and consistent with applicable law, including, without limitation, Hawaii Revised Statues Chapter 92F. I acknowledge and understand that if I breach or violate this Confidentiality Covenant, the University of Hawaii will be obligated to defend me against any claims, actions, or proceedings arising there from only to the extent consistent with applicable laws, University policies and procedures, and the relevant collective bargaining or other labor related agreements." 

"Here's more evidence the UH is not being transparent," said Kim, who chaired two days of senate briefings looking into UH financial and management decisions in the aftermath of the failed fundraising concert. "This isn't CIA espionage, this is the University of Hawaii, a public university." 

Kim feared the agreement will "intimidate" members of the panel to keep information secret that should be public. 

Reacting to the threats of civil and criminal penalties in the agreement, Kim said, "This has a chilling effect on volunteer board members.  And I think those are scare tactics, because I don't think they can file criminal cases." 

State Sen. Sam Slom (R-Hawaii Kai, Aina Haina, Kahala), another member of the senate special committee, said, "This is chilling and intimidation. The Regents should be more concerned with transparency, open meetings and discussion and the freedom of members to speak up and debate any issues involved because the media and the public have a right to know."

"Threatening members with charges and fines does little to increase diverse and robust discussion," Slom added.

Kim said she wanted to know who created the confidentiality agreement. 

Testifying at last week's senate briefing, Board of Regents Vice Chair James Lee told senators the form came about on the advice of university lawyers from the UH Office of General Counsel. 

Sources said the agreement was drafted by UH Manoa officials in consultation with the UH Office of General Counsel, and was similar to one signed by members of the search committee that selected Tom Apple at the UH Manoa chancellor earlier this year. 

Lee told senators it was not an intimidation tactic but an "affirmation of faith" among the volunteers on the panel. 

Lee also said the agreement was partly in reaction to reports by Hawaii News Now about information that came from closed-door UH meetings. 

"I think there was a concern that Mr. Kerr was getting information from confidential meetings," Lee told senators, referring to Hawaii News Now reporter Keoki Kerr. 

Another volunteer UH panel, the advisory committee helping with the search for the next UH athletics director, also signed confidentiality agreements, sources said. 

The accountability group could make its first report to the UH regents by their next regularly scheduled meeting on Oct. 18.  A special regents meeting is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 12 to discuss the future of UH President M.R.C. Greenwood, who has come under fire for her handling of the concert debacle and its aftermath. 

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