Several beneficiaries who attended Tuesday's Office of Hawaiian Affairs board meeting say they're worried that boardroom bickering is distracting the agency from its mission to help Hawaiians.
"This is kind of a fiasco. People are laughing at us," said Oahu resident Demont Conner, who works with native Hawaiians in prison. "On the west side, we're not pleased with the way OHA is [operating]."
Stemming from what she perceive to be a serious flaw within the agency, attorney Kaui Pratt-Aquino collected nearly 600 signatures from beneficiaries on a petition to remove Chairwoman Rowena Akana.
"The consistent message, based on the testimony that's been submitted, is that she's been mean spirited, controlling," Pratt-Aquino said.
After her testimony, the OHA's chairwoman confronted her.
"Don't mislead people," Akana said. "That's what you're doing. It's not fair. All of this is a distraction."
The exchange, which lasted more than ten minutes, came as the rest of OHA's board was behind closed doors, discussing 33 complaints against Akana from other agency staff members.
Akana says the complaints are bogus and are from staffers who are loyal to CEO Kamanao Crabbe, whom she is trying to oust.
"The 33 I understand were done by two people in the fiscal office when I was the budget chair. They're two years old," said Akana. "How they can say I intimidated them or did anything to them is really beyond me."
Several native Hawaiians says the infighting preventing OHA from fulfilling its mission.
"I would like to see all them, the board and the administration work things out and work together and go foward," said Makaha resident Kaiulani Milham.
OHA's board took no action against Akana on Tuesday, but the fights appear far from over. The issue will come up again in February, and Akana's effort to oust CEO Kamanao Crabbe is coming up in just two days.
The bickering comes as OHA is undergoing a transition. The state agency's board was recently reorganized with Akana as the chair.