HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State Senate President Donna Kim Tuesday denied allegations by UH President MRC Greenwood that Kim threatened to hold hearings into the UH William Richardson School of Law when Kim asked Greenwood last spring about whether UH had received her son's law school application.
Kim was reacting to Hawaii News Now's exclusive interview with Greenwood that aired Monday night.
Kim said she did not pressure Greenwood or threaten to hold hearings during the phone conversations which Kim described as friendly calls during which she was checking on her son as a concerned parent.
Kim said she called Greenwood last spring to ask whether the UH law school had received an application from her then-22-year-old son Micah, who was then working in Washington, D.C.
Greenwood told Hawaii News Now Kim was upset that her son hadn't heard if he'd gotten in or not, when other law school applicants had already been notified.
"And she was quite upset and angry over what she considered to be the incompetence of our law school admissions people," Greenwood said."And I think her exact words were; 'If I don't get the exact answers I'm expecting, you can expect to be answering these questions in front of the legislature next year. And I said whoa, whoa, whoa, let's just find out what's going on here."
It turns out Kim's son had not applied to the UH law school, even though he had lead his mother to believe he had.
"Her son had not applied," Greenwood said." And I had the pleasure of telling the senator that. She was not very happy but she did hang up and say, she did call back and said my son will call to apologize."
"This is something between a mother and a son, holding him accountable for something that he implied to me," Kim said.
Asked if she felt threatened by Kim's calls, Greenwood said, "No I thought she was probably just a disturbed mother at that point but I probably should have taken it more seriously."
Kim responded by saying: "To link it to any of the UH hearings at this point, I think it's really unfortunate that a person of Dr. Greenwood's stature would try to misrepresent a simple conversation that was held."
Kim said she never described law school officials as incompetent or applied any pressure to Greenwood.
"It just saddens me to see Dr. Greenwood present it in that manner," Kim said.
"So you didn't threaten to hold hearings on the law school or anything?" reporter Keoki Kerr asked Kim.
"Of course not," Kim said. "I was the tourism chair. I didn't have any inclination about any hearings at UH." She presided over two days of hearings into UH's failed Stevie Wonder concert last fall and became Senate president in December.
Kim was also asked if calling Greenwood didn't apply some undue pressure, even if she was only checking on her son's application.
"You have to remember, at the time that I had a really good relationship with MRC," Kim said.
Kim had chaired the Senate's powerful money committee for the first two years of Greenwood's presidency and Kim said the two women had worked closely on the UH budget during the recession.
Kim said she purposely waited to inquire until after UH had begun notifying accepted law students.
"I specifically did that, waited until the end, because I didn't want it to appear as though there was any pressure on anybody," Kim said.
Kim said her son did apply to UH law school this year and was accepted there as well as at several other mainland law schools including the University of Washington.
She said he will enroll at UH law school in the fall.
In the HNN interview, Greenwood said there wasn't necessarily a personal problem between the two of them.
Greenwood said, "I don't believe she (Kim) treats people with respect. She is entitled to ask her questions. I don't think she's entitled to ruin people's reputations or embarrass their families and I did see that happen during this hearing."
Kim said by chairing UH hearings last fall she was just holding UH Board of Regents and top officials accountable, because they had not answered detailed questions from the media or fully disclosed how they responded to the failed Stevie Wonder concert.
Kim said she has a long history of investigating charges of waste and mismanagement.
Kim chaired hearings earlier in 2012 that looked into overtime, pensions and salary overpayments of state employees.
In 2010, she chaired hearings over several months looking into waste and mismanagement at the state airports division of the Department of Transportation. The state airports administrator abruptly resigned shortly after she questioned him about possible unethical behavior. Just last week, a State Auditor's report detailed many of the airport problems that Kim explored three years ago.
In 2008, Kim oversaw a hearing investigating the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism's procurement for management of its $8.5 million hydrogen fund after complaints that then-DBEDT director steered the contract to his friends.
Before she became a state senator, she was a member of the Honolulu City Council where Kim was well-known for grilling members of the administration of former Mayor Jeremy Harris about financial and management issues during council hearings.