Ethics Commission forces several OHA trustees to pay back thousands

Updated: Jun. 12, 2019 at 9:18 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - The state Ethics Commission has ordered several members of the OHA Board of Trustees to pay back thousands of dollars in travel and meal expenses, Hawaii News Now has learned.

“The commission took action against multiple OHA trustees,” the commission’s Executive Director Daniel Gluck said, in an email.

Gluck did not name the individual trustees.

But Office of Hawaiian Affairs Chairwoman Collette Machado told Hawaii News Now that she had reimbursed OHA more than $7,200 months before the commission began inquiring about her trustee allowance expenditures last year.

She added that Trustee Hulu Lindsey also reimbursed OHA for meals she bought with her allowance.

More than $5,000 of Machado’s expenses were for an annual religious celebration called “God’s Ohana Day” at the Molokai Public Library.

OHA policy bars the use of trustee allowances for religious purposes. Machado said she initially thought it was okay because the events were open to the public and were held on public grounds.

But Stephen Tannebaum, attorney for former OHA Trustee Rowena Akana, said it’s not an innocent mistake.

“When you dig a little bit deeper, the speaker at these events were promoting an agenda of anti-same gender marriage, anti-sex education in the schools," he said.

“Many OHA beneficiaries would be unhappy to learn that OHA trust funds are being spent to fund these types of political and social initiatives.”

Tannenbaum said Machado’s donation is one of dozens of improper expenditures by other trustees.

He recently subpoenaed thousands of pages of trustee allowance reports, as part a lawsuit against the state Ethics Commission, which fined Akana $23,000 last year.

Tannebaum and Akana alleged that the commission is selectively targeting her, saying said other trustees have done worse.

“I do believe I was singled out and I do have enemies not just at OHA but outside," she said.

But Gluck said Akana’s allegations had “no merit,” citing the recent actions taken against other board members.

Hawaii New Now examined seven years of trustee allowance expenditures by current and former OHA trustees. We found that many of the expenditures wouldn’t be allowed today.

They include thousands of dollars in meals with staffers paid for by other trustees and travel and sponsorships to send surfers to Portugal and a Miss Rodeo contestant to Las Vegas.

One trustee, Daniel Ahuna, paid $800 so that a beneficiary could travel to Standing Rock, N.D. to observe the Native American protests, the records show.

Machado said that OHA has since reduced trustees’ allowances from $22,500 to $7,200 a year. She accused Akana of “sour grapes” because she lost her election last year.

“She’s just doing this to harm OHA,” Machado said.

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