EXCLUSIVE: Gov. holds secret meeting with UH regents - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

EXCLUSIVE: Gov. holds secret meeting with UH regents on presidential search

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Gov. Neil Abercrombie held a secret meeting with nearly all the University of Hawaii Board of Regents Wednesday afternoon to discuss how to move forward with the search for a new UH president.

Abercrombie invited the UH regents to a private meeting with him Wednesday afternoon in his office at the Capitol, a day before they held their first official regents' meeting following last week's resignation announcement by UH President MRC Greenwood. 

"The meeting was really off-the-record and not-for-attribution, because really we wanted to have a candid conversation about where we go from here," Abercrombie said. 

Abercrombie said nearly all of the 15 regents attended the meeting.  He added they did not discuss the names of specific candidates to be Greenwood's successor.  

"That's their business," Abercrombie said. 

He said his message was simple: "It's time to move forward.  I think the time for accusations and finger pointing is over with." 

"I want to be there to help them, not try to tear the university down or tear it apart, but build it up and support it," Abercrombie said. 

He said he hopes regents and others to put the controversies that began with the cancellation of the UH's Stevie Wonder concert last July behind them.  

"It's time to think about the good things that the university stands for and the good things the university is doing and to concentrate on that," Abercrombie said. 

Abercrombie, who earned master's and doctorate degrees from UH, said he and other alumni want the school to find a presidential replacement as soon as possible, without rushing just to fill the post. 

"Those of us who have graduated from the university continue to love it, continue to want to be a part of it in a positive way, not just looking for cracks in the armor or pitfalls that might be there," Abercrombie said.  

He hopes the regents will choose a new president, "Who's looking forward to the challenge of being president, who understands that the governance issues have to be addressed forthrightly, and understands that there's a legacy of a great education at the university." 

The state's sunshine law allows the governor to meet with more than one member of any board and discuss practically anything without publishing an agenda or giving the public six days notice, as long as they don't make a decision judging the outcome of any case. 

Abercrombie said the law has "gone over the extreme edge of the cliff."

"If you have to post a six-day notice in order for more than two regents to speak to one another, then it's almost impossible for them to conduct any business with one another," Abercrombie said. "The regents right now are hamstrung because they can't even have a telephone call with one another.  Not to speculate or to conspire or to plot and scheme, but to just have a conversation to try to clear their own minds and clear the air as to what direction they want to go in and to be able to speak informally to one another." 

"Of course, when decisions are made, they have to be made under the rules and regulations that reflect the kind of openness and transparency we want to have," Abercrombie added. 

Friday afternoon, the regents posted an agenda for a special meeting to be held May 24 during which they will once again discuss the presidential search in a session that's closed to the public.  But the regents will accept testimony, both written and in person.

The regents spent at least an hour and a half behind closed doors in executive session during their monthly meeting Thursday afternoon to discuss the departure of Greenwood and efforts to find her successor. 

UH Regents Chair Eric Martinson said the regents discussed the names of potential presidential candidates during the closed-door meeting Thursday.  He could not offer a timetable of how long the search for Greenwood's successor will take or say whether the regents will hire a search firm to help in their process. When Greenwood was hired in 2009, the search took seven months and UH spent $109,000 on a search firm. 

"I think the responsibility of the board is to find the best candidate to serve the needs of the organization and lead the organization going forward.  Certainly, we need someone who's sensitive to Hawaii's business style and Hawaii's culture.  We're going to find the best candidate who fits that need as well as the overall need of the presidency," Martinson said. 

Martinson said none of the regents is interested in applying to be the next UH president. 

Greenwood announced earlier this month she will retire from the UH president's job on August 31, nearly two years before her $475,000-a-year contract expires.  She plans to take a one-year unpaid leave and then said she will return to a tenured faculty position at UH's John A. Burns School of Medicine. 

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