OHA trustee legal, internal disputes heat up - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

OHA trustee legal, internal disputes heat up

Rowena Akana Rowena Akana
HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Longtime Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Rowena Akana has been stripped of her leadership position.

OHA said it's because she leaked confidential information and was abusive to staff. But Akana said she was removed as chair of OHA's budget committee because she was critical of the way business is done at OHA -- often behind closed doors.

"When a trustee like myself questions how these things can occur, you are severely punished," said Akana, who was first elected to the state agency in 1990.

"Either you're left out of decision making, your committee is taken away and (you're) harassed to the nth degree occurs."

While boardroom disputes at OHA are not new, this one has spilled out into the state courts.

Two years ago, Akana sued OHA for violating the sunshine law and for withholding public documents regarding its $21 million purchase of the Gentry Pacific Design Center. Akana's attorney Bridget Morgan said the lawsuit is intended to shine more light on OHA's proceedings.

"It goes to their refusal to disclose to the public and the beneficiaries minutes from closed meetings, it's the repeated holding of closed meetings without specific reason," said Morgan, a lawyer with the Bickerton Dang firm.

OHA has filed a counter-suit against Akana for leaking material about the Gentry deal and a state judge recently ruled that she breached her duties in doing so.

Under OHA rules, trustees can be stripped of committee assignments and forbidden to travel if they breach their fiduciary duties, said OHA attorney Paul Alston.

Alston said the board also took action against Akana because more than three dozen employees have complained that she has harassed them at work -- a charge she denies.

"She's clearly been the source of many many complaints about her style and her behavior," Alston said.

He also said Akana's criticisms of the Gentry deal is off base. "History has proven how stupid her opposition was. The building is a tremendous headquarters for OHA," Alston said. "They're saving over a million dollars  a year in rent."

Copyright 2015 Hawaii News Now.  All rights reserved.

Powered by Frankly