Fired DHHL deputy director says she was intimidated and insulted

Published: Feb. 8, 2013 at 10:32 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 8, 2013 at 11:40 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Michelle Kauhane was Deputy Director of the Department of Hawaiian Homelands. In December she met with the governor's Chief of Staff, Bruce Coppa.

She recorded audio from the meeting on her iPhone, unbeknownst to the other people in the room.

"I'd like to offer you a job, $85,000, and working with Colin Kippen for Hawaiians," Coppa said on the recording. "It could be funded through DHHL. It's an opportunity. I'd like you to consider it."

"I was stunned to be asked to go somewhere else," Kauhane said.

She said she felt intimidated because State Attorney General David Louie was also there. He talked about an investigation into an email she wrote on re-certifying native Hawaiians.

"The email was simply to stop the process we were following now, so that I could understand how do we arrive at a situation of re-certification," Kauhane said.

On the recording Louie said her statements could be in violation of the law.

"If you were to take a different position, the incompatibility is not as manifest," he said. "It's still an issue for me but it's not the same thing if you're in a different position, if you're not acting as the Deputy Director."

Kauhane said she understood it to mean "it would be less of an issue if I took a job somewhere else."

She describes the meeting with Coppa and Louie as confrontational, and the job offer as a way to get her out of the way.  She and DHHL director Jobie Masagatani didn't see eye to eye.

"That's the only way I'm leaving DHHL. You don't want me there, fire me!" Kauhane said on the recording.

She was terminated a few days after the meeting, and told only that her services were no longer needed.

"Seeing it first hand myself was stunning. That even at the highest levels of enforcement, the Attorney General himself, I felt intimidated to be asked to go somewhere else," she said.

At one point Coppa can be heard getting emotional, tapping the desk to emphasize his points.

"I said, 'Hey, $85,000 a year. It's not a bad deal. Let's see if we can make that happen, and we'll spin it up to be very good. It could be a damn good thing and the governor could announce it. That's what I'm telling you as a friend," he said.

"With a friend like that I probably don't need an enemy," Kauhane said.

In a statement, the governor's press secretary Louise Kim McCoy said, "The Chief of Staff and Attorney General have no comment as to their discussions with Michelle Kauhane as this is a personnel matter. DHHL funds are regularly used to pay the salaries of personnel from other departments whose services are exclusively furthering the mission of DHHL."

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