Senators question Greenwood for more than two hours

Greenwood questioned by senators in Wonder Blunder probe
Published: Sep. 24, 2012 at 6:03 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 25, 2012 at 9:03 AM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - University of Hawaii President M.R.C. Greenwood was grilled by more than two hours by a special State Senate committee Monday looking into the botched Stevie Wonder concert and its aftermath.

She told senators that she knows more about the law enforcement investigation and the possible whereabouts of the $200,000 UH lost in the failed Stevie Wonder concert than she can disclose publicly.

"I do know more but I can't disclose it," because of the FBI investigation into the case, Greenwood said.  She said law enforcement officials have asked her not to go into further detail in public.

Greenwood said the UH was hit by a "perfect storm."

"We were taken advantage of," by people outside the university pressuring UH for deposit money and Greenwood said UH employees "made a mistake by pushing forward the money before they had permission to do so," sending out the deposit money that UH has been unable to locate.

"We have made some changes in policy," Greenwood said, and "we may change some of their [employees] responsibilities."

"The university has highly paid attorneys, highly paid staff," State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim (D-Moanalua, Aiea, Halawa Valley) said, along with policies and procedures that weren't followed and it's "real troublesome" that the concert fiasco happened.

"I agree," said Greenwood.

By calling it a scam, State Sen. Sam Slom (R-Hawaii Kai, Kahala) asked Greenwood if she was "discounting any managerial decisions or indecisions along the way."

Greenwood answered, "Could people have asked for more information along the way... we could always second guess that."

"I may not be responsible for how it got initiated.  I am responsible for how it ends," Greenwood said.

At a recent lunch on the Manoa campus with the Business Roundtable, a group of Honolulu executives, Greenwood told them that the state taxpayers and the legislature could be called  "minority shareholders," since about $350 million of the UH's roughly $1.5 billion budget comes from state taxpayers.

Kim asked her to explain the remark.

"While we are a large organization and our funding comes from many sources, the reality is that we are very closely tied and we are happy to be closely tied to the legislature, but we have many other constituents that also make demands on us," Greenwood said. "I didn't mean it as an insult, I didn't mean it in negative way. I meant it as a way of explaining the complexity of the jobs that we have."

Kim responded, "Saying that we're a minority shareholder when it's not just the $350 million, all of the tuition is public money, the federal funds are public money. They're all tax dollars."

"I think we can all agree senator, that I am perfectly capable of putting my foot in my mouth," Greenwood said, creating one of the few moments of humor during an otherwise-intense hearing that lasted five six hours.

Greenwood disclosed that UH hired a third law firm in the concert's aftermath, former Attorney General Mark Bennett, for his expertise in criminal matters.  It's unknown how much money Bennett is being paid for his UH legal work.

One of the two attorneys who conducted an investigation for UH into the bungled concert said he did not interview Greenwood as part of that probe.

That's because Greenwood involvement in the planning and management leading up to the concert was "non existent," limited to just one email, said Dennis Chong Kee, a partner in the law firm Cades Schutte before a briefing of the State Senate Special Committee on Accountability Monday afternoon.

"I didn't think it was worth the time. I don't believe that the president was involved in the planning," Chong Kee said.  Greenwood has said she knew nothing in advance about the plans for the concert, which was set as a fundraiser for the UH athletics department.

Kim, chair of the special committee, asked Chong Kee if his law firm could truly have been independent, since it was hired to probe the actions of top UH officials who are responsible for hiring his firm for legal work from time to time.

"I felt I was independent," Chong Kee said.

Chong Kee's firm will be paid up to $50,000 by UH for performing the investigation, according to a contract released by UH last week.  He told senators his bill will likely be higher than that amount.

State Sen. Ron Kouchi (D-Kauai, Niihau) asked if the UH violated its own policy because the UH president is required to approve any fundraising effort in advance and that approval was not made in this case.

"I did not make a finding this was a fundraiser," Chong Kee said.

Greenwood said the concert did not fall under that requirement because it wasn't a large fundraising campaign, such as an effort to raise funds for the UH Cancer Center or similar large, long-term fundraising effort.

Senators also questioned attorney Robert Katz, whose law firm got a $25,000 contract to redact UH documents, sanitizing them of information his firm felt needed to be protected from public view for legal reasons.

Katz said his firm removed the names of non-UH employees to avoid potential legal action by them and to avoid interfering in the law enforcement investigation.

But senators said the lawyers removed names from some contracts with the university that should be public under state law.  Katz said his office never checked with the state's Office of Information Practices, the entity that makes rulings on information and documents that should be disclosed to the public and the media.

Kim told a standing-room-only crowd in a capitol hearing room that the Senate's briefings are aimed to "restore the public's trust and confidence" in the UH.

"It is not our intent to micro manage and we would have preferred these briefings be held by the regents," Kim said, referring to the UH Board of Regents, the all-volunteer body that oversees the ten-campus UH system.

A second State Senate hearing has been scheduled for Oct. 2, when UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple and other officials are expected to testify.  Senators planned to begin their probe by looking into the failed concert and its aftermath, but will also pursue questions about other UH management and financial decisions.

The UH Manoa Faculty Senate could schedule a "no confidence" vote on Greenwood as early as its November meeting.  A motion was made and seconded for such a vote at the senate's first meeting of the school year on Sept. 19.  The legislative body, composed of 86 senators representing 2,200 faculty at the Manoa campus, will decide at its October meeting whether to put the proposal to a full vote of the senate in November.

"What we are seeing is a crisis of credibility," said Noel Kent, a veteran ethnic studies professor at the Manoa campus who said he made the "no confidence" proposal on behalf of students, faculty and staff. "They really feel there's a sort of chaos going on throughout the whole system, especially at the top, at the level of the regents and also the president.  We need fresh leadership."

In a statement released Friday, a UH official said, "President Greenwood has the deepest respect for the faculty. She would be happy to meet with any faculty senate at any time."

All ten UH campuses have faculty senates.  A vote of no confidence would not have the power of law or UH policy, but would be a symbolic blow to Greenwood, who has already faced sharp criticism from the public about her handling of the crisis.

"Maybe Greenwood should be facing a 'no competence' vote instead," wrote one reader who commented online about Hawaii News Now's story on the issue Friday.

"Get out you worthless overpaid sorry excuse of an educator!" wrote another person, commenting on HNN's web site story.

In public, the UH Regents have expressed their full support for Greenwood and Apple, while also apologizing for the failed concert and the way the UH handled its aftermath.

On July 10, the UH canceled the concert and refunded hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of tickets sold for the event, because Stevie Wonder's agents said he had never committed to the concert.  UH officials said they made a deal with an "unauthorized third party," and wired $200,000 to a Miami talent agency as a deposit.  That money has not been located, UH officials said they had been "scammed" and notified the FBI which is investigating the case.

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