UH Regents will revisit Donovan settlement at special meeting

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii News Now has learned that the University of Hawaii Board of Regents plan to hold a special meeting to revisit the controversial settlement that gave Jim Donovan a communications job but removed him as the university's athletics director.

The regents made the decision during a closed-door executive session Thursday, in what sources described as a "close vote."  A date and time still must be set for the special meeting, sources said.

The regents plan to talk about whether they properly approved the settlement, since the deal never went before a full vote of the regents, sources said.

The regents could also reconsider and vote on the settlement, sources said.

If the regents reject the deal, Donovan's lawyer could sue the UH and the rejection could be seen as showing a lack of confidence in President MRC Greenwood and UH Regents Chairman Eric Martinson, who OK'd the agreement.

Some regents want to hold a special meeting on the subject before the regents' next regular meeting on Nov. 15, which will be held at UH Maui, a source said.  That's because those regents don't want to be criticized for trying to hide the issue by discussing it on a neighbor island where they would get less media coverage, a source added. Some regents are also asking for a public discussion of some of the issue, assuring that all of the deliberations won't be in secret.

The UH put Donovan on paid leave as athletic director July 11, when it began investigating the canceled Stevie Wonder concert. Five days later, his lawyer threatened to sue the university for defamation if school officials did not reinstate him as AD.

Donovan told state senators earlier this month it was clear UH officials were trying to avoid a vote by the Board of Regents in settling his case.

"It was stated that the position could not be longer than three years because the president had authority to sign for up to three years, but anything longer than three years would take board action," Donovan during in a State Senate briefing on Oct. 2.

On August 11, Donovan and Greenwood signed an agreement document that said he would not sue UH in exchange for the university giving him a three-year appointment for a $211,000-a-year communications job in the Manoa chancellor's office and $30,000 in legal fees for his attorney.

James Lee, vice chair of the UH Board of Regents, told senators on Oct. 2: "I think it was good it was settled.  But I think the part, with respect to his new position, that was a reassignment.  And that was following board policy." Lee told senators he personally did not agree with re-assigning Donovan to the communications job.

Lee -- who's also a lawyer -- said UH lawyers opined that the deal did not require a vote of the full regents because the only amount of money directly tied to the deal was $30,000 in legal fees, so it was less than the $500,000 threshold requiring a vote of all 15 regents. The regents did not count Donovan's salary in making the determination if a vote of the full board was required, Lee said.

State Sen. Donna Kim, who chaired the Senate's Special Committee on Accountability, has questioned whether the agreement is binding, because it was never approved by the regents, in violation of the regents' policies.

Kim received an opinion from the state Attorney General's office that said his salary should have been calculated as part of the deal.

"As a settlement agreement exceeding $500,000, the Jim Donovan settlement agreement required the approval of the BOR [Board of Regents], according to the BOR's policies," said the opinion by Russell Suzuki, the first deputy attorney general.

"We believe the memorandum and agreement is a settlement agreement because it is an arm's length settlement that was negotiated through legal counsel and resolved a legal dispute," Suzuki wrote.

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