Investigation: UH concert fiasco result of mismanagement, little oversight

UH regents support Donovan's move to Chancellors office
Published: Aug. 22, 2012 at 2:39 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 21, 2012 at 7:34 PM HST
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Kaneohe, HAWAII (HawaiiNewsNow) -- In spite of pleas from state lawmakers and some members of the public, the UH Board of Regents did not reinstate Jim Donovan as athletics director Wednesday and instead concurred with his transfer to a new UH communications job.

The regents also released results of a probe into the failed Stevie Wonder concert that found Donovan approved of the event but had little detailed involvement in it.

The regents emerged from a seven-and-a-half hour executive session behind closed doors at Windward Community College in Kaneohe shortly after 5 p.m. Wednesday. Sources said board members and UH President MRC Greenwood spent nearly five hours talking about the failed concert and Donovan's situation.  It was the longest closed-door meeting of the regents in several years, UH officials said.

"We apologize for the university's handling of this matter and are deeply sorry for the concern and upset that it has caused the community," said Board of Regents Chairman Eric Martinson, after the regents emerged from the day-long meeting.

A 57-page investigative report performed by a Honolulu law firm for UH found Donovan approved of the Stevie Wonder concert at the Stan Sheriff arena but had little involvement in and little oversight of it, delegating that to arena manager Rich Sheriff.

"There was certainly a lack of proper oversight, some poor judgments were made, other avoidable mistakes are identified, but nothing intentionally illegal happened," said Greenwood.

Martinson said, "The report shows a failure of management in the athletics department and additional issues with financial controls at several levels."

The report found no one at UH verified that the account to which the $200,000 in university funds was wired was in fact an escrow account.

The investigation also concluded no UH employee "provided or reviewed escrow instructions or received confirmation of the transfer of funds."

The wire transfer form was completed by an administrative assistant in the Athletics department business office, "or by a student worker," the report said.

Greenwood told reporters at a news conference, "If the concert problem had never happened, Mr. Donovan would probably be sitting in the athletic director's office, but we would also be starting a search in the next week or so."

Greenwood confirmed for the first time that she rejected requests by former UH Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw to extend Donovan's five-year contract that expires next March.

Sources said Greenwood nixed Hinshaw's proposal for both five- and three-year contract extensions for Donovan within the last year, long before the concert fiasco.

"We wanted to go in a new direction.  This is a time for a new change. That we were in the process of developing a search plan.  That's really all I have to say about it," Greenwood said.

She said Donovan's tentative title in his new chancellor's office job is director of external affairs and community relations.

Donovan's return-to-work agreement released by the UH showed the university will pay his attorney's fees of $30,000.  Donovan hired lawyer David Simon who wrote a five-page letter to UH on July 16, less than a week after Donovan was placed on paid leave, threatening to file suit against UH unless he was reinstated to his AD position.

Greenwood did not anticipate any UH staff will be disciplined because of the concert fiasco but instead said school employees will be counseled and trained and procedures will be changed.

Asked what she would have done differently, Greenwood said, "Probably, I would have discussed more publicly the situation we were in, what we knew and what we didn't know."

She said didn't know about the concert until she saw public announcement.  In the future, Greenwood said that will change.

"When we have a high-profile concert of that sort on the campus, even though it is the responsibility of the individuals who are charged with the arena and that is how that is set up.  There's a certain amount of common sense involved in who needs to know what's happening and to not be surprised," Greenwood added.

The regents met behind closed doors  after hearing pleas from the public for Donovan to be reinstated and for more openness about what has happened.

"A great university will admit to errors but make the error right as soon as possible," said Charles Araki, retired UH College of Education dean and a board member of the UH Manoa Letterwinners Club. He testified before the regents' monthly meeting at Windward Community College in Kaneohe.

Araki, a 1957 UH graduate who played on the university's football and track teams, asked the board to reinstate Donovan to his position heading the athletics department. Donovan has been re-assigned to a newly created communications job in the UH Manoa chancellor's office.

Araki, one of four people testifying in support of Donovan, called him a man "of impeccable character." No one testified who was critical of Donovan or supported his removal as athletics director.

Kailua resident Shannon Wood, who said she and her husband hold season tickets to six UH sports, chided university officials for not being more open about what happened in the aftermath of the canceled concert.

"I am very, very concerned about the lack of transparency," Wood said.

Tuesday, Greenwood emailed the UH community and claimed that UH had already planned to remove Donovan as AD before the concert was canceled July 10 and those plans had nothing to do with the concert blunder.

A source said UH officials asked Donovan to appear at the regents' meeting and state in open testimony, with media present, that he "fully supports" his transfer from the AD job to the as-yet untitled communications job in UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple's office. But, a source said, Donovan declined to do that.

Top members of the legislature, including State Senate President Shan Tsutsui, have personally called some regents, asking them to reinstate Donovan, sources said.

Nine Neighbor Island members of the State House submitted a letter to the regents in support of Donovan.

"Mr. Donovan is the first athletic director that we can recall who seems to recognize that supporters, participants and contributors come from all parts of the state, not just Oahu," the letter said.

"We recognize the seriousness of the recent mismanagement issue related to the Stevie Wonder concert, and that the University will handle the controversy as necessary and in the best interest of the athletic program," the lawmakers wrote. "We believe Mr. Donovan's performance as Athletic Director has been outstanding, and we urge you to consider the advancements he has made, and the relationships he has built, in the community and in the legislature."

The letter was signed by State Representatives Mark Nakashima, Jerry Chang, Robert Herkes, Denny Coffman, Gil Keith-Agaran, Kyle Yamashita, Derek Kawakami, James Tokioka and Daynette Morikawa.

A source said Gov. Neil Abercrombie met with Greenwood to lobby her on Donovan's behalf before UH officials brokered the deal for Donovan to be assigned to a new UH job.

Reached for comment, Abercrombie Press Secretary Donalyn DelaCruz said, "The governor did not know anything about the plans by UH administrators regarding Jim Donovan."

"We were merely spectators in all of this," DelaCruz said.

Wednesday's meeting went so long that UH had to postpone numerous other UH items to another day, including discussion of the UH budget.

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