13 August 2004

UH Regents Discuss Evan S. Dobelle

Both major Honolulu dailies, the Star-Bulletin and the Advertiser, published their reports from what the latter describes as "hundreds of pages of documents released yesterday by the University of Hawai'i, including personal e-mails, UH Foundation documents, travel itineraries and draft minutes from two key meetings of the UH Board of Regents."

The Star-Bulletin focuses on the Regents' loss of trust and ends with a list of key issues.
Minutes of meetings and documents that led to the firing of University of Hawaii President Evan Dobelle show regents believed Dobelle misused a UH Foundation fund and lost the trust of the board because of his "lies."

In a discussion in executive session before the vote to fire Dobelle on June 15, regents expressed their reasons why the then-president should be terminated, including allegedly using UH Foundation money for personal benefit, and a lack of leadership, follow-up and credibility.

Regent Walter Nunokawa said the board should have taken action last year, but "the Lingle appointees wanted to have a chance to work with the president and see if they could do better than we did with him."

Board Vice Chairwoman Kitty Lagareta, who was appointed to the board last year by Gov. Linda Lingle, said she wanted to give Dobelle a chance. But, according to the minutes' summary of her comments, "the bottom line for her is that the president is a liar -- a habitual liar, and unfortunately a very credible liar." ...

According to the minutes, Deloitte & Touche auditor Gary Nishikawa told the regents that there was a "reimbursement frenzy" when the fund was audited. But he said it was not within the auditor's scope of services to render an opinion or determine whether there was an intent to defraud the university.

Dobelle has said there was sloppy bookkeeping with the fund but no intent to take money....


Problem areas related to the Board of Regents' June 15 firing of University of Hawaii President Evan Dobelle, according to documents released yesterday and cited by UH sources:

>> An audit report that shows $72,000 in undocumented expenses from Dobelle's protocol fund managed by the UH Foundation.

>> Use of about $7,000 from a restricted donation for a video showing Dobelle receiving a Salesman of the Year award from Sales and Marketing Executives of Hawaii.

>> Use of university funds for flights to the mainland to interview for positions at other institutions.

>> Dobelle, a former mayor of Pittsfield, Mass., flew the sheriff of Pittsfield to Hawaii and put him up in a Waikiki hotel [not just any old Waikiki hotel, but the Halekulani, "the premier luxury hotel"!] at university expense. Dobelle told the regents he was recruiting the sheriff to work on an educational program, but administrators of the program said they never heard of him.

>> Dobelle also used university funds for air fare and hotel expenses for the men's squash coach at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., where Dobelle formerly was president, saying he was recruiting the coach, even though UH does not have a squash program.

>> Cost overruns for renovation of College Hill, the university president's residence.

>> A $4,000 trip taken by Dobelle's wife, Kit, to a conference in Massachusetts at her college alma mater.

Source: Associated Press [probably AP reporter Bruce Dunford; see this blog's initial post on Dobelle].
The Advertiser leads off with alleged misuse of funds and ends with assessments from each member of the Board of Regents.
During some fund-raising trips on behalf of the University of Hawai'i in the past nine months, Evan Dobelle was job-hunting and undergoing personal job interviews, according to documents released by the university yesterday....


Highlights from the minutes of June 15, when regents fired Dobelle "for cause." They later rescinded that decision:

Regent Myron A. Yamasato • "Regent Yamasato stated that since Dobelle has no solid support from any stakeholder group ... his appointment should be terminated."

Regent Walter Nunokawa • "Regent Nunokawa noted that after three years there is still no operational plan for the university, just a bunch of big ideas without priority or commitment attached to them. He noted it is particularly troubling, since he is one of the few regents who were on board when Dobelle was hired, to find that many side contracts were negotiated without the knowledge or oversight of the Board. Regent Nunokawa concluded that since there is no trust, and the feeling is unanimous that he has no integrity, there is no reason to continue his appointment."

Chairwoman Patricia Lee • "In the areas of scholarship and academics, it is questionable whether he is fit to lead a Research 1 (One) University and whether he would have earned tenure on his own given his academic credentials. If the public knew what the board knows and if these things could be brought (to) light, the public would be outraged."

Regent Charles Kawakami • "He stated that the president simply has no integrity and you cannot trust him so it is really impossible to work with him."

Regent Kitty Lagareta • "Regent Lagareta also noted that she had been deeply troubled by President Dobelle's inability to work effectively with women. She said that it was unbelievable when he told some male regents that things would be easier if he didn't have to work with two women as chair and vice chair."

Regent James J.C. Haynes II • "He said it is time to move on past Evan Dobelle because he is simply not good for the university."

Regent Alvin A. Tanaka • "Given all the lies, threats, and problems with money, Regent Tanaka said that personally he would not stay on the board if President Dobelle continued."

Regent Trent K. Kakuda • "Regent Kakuda said that he simply could not take another year of the president's lies and deceptions to the board and to the public."

Regent Byron W. Bender • "President Dobelle has demonstrated no leadership in dealing with problems, choosing rather to allow them to 'fester' and eventually land at the board's doorstep. He has a problem with money and the board cannot allow it to continue."

Regent Jane B. Tatibouet • "There is too much money being mismanaged and misused for his personal benefit rather than for the entire university."
A related story is headlined How regents reached decision.
The meeting at which University of Hawai'i regents decided to fire President Evan Dobelle — a decision they later rescinded in a settlement agreement — began with advice from the board's attorney and discussion of an audit of Dobelle's spending, draft minutes of the session released yesterday show....

According to the draft minutes, "Lee said that she favors a graceful termination or resignation, but President Dobelle already stated publicly that we 'can't fire him' and that the board will have to 'buy him out.'

"She added that this may be the president's final position, but that she has done some analysis and ... the university could save about $1,386,000 even if the board did buy him out of his main contract and probably much more once the board does an assessment of all of his side agreements."

She also said the university could save money with the departures of "his high-priced people, some of whom have already left," the minutes show.
Finally, the Star-Bulletin includes a sad sidebar story by investigative reporter Rick Daysog headlined, Dobelle siphoned off donation for Jewish studies at UH: The donor asks that the money be restored to its original purpose.

Well, I guess I've finally figured out what Evan S. Dobelle's middle initial stands for.

UPDATE: In the 18 August edition of Honolulu MidWeek, columnist Bob Jones reports on "What the Dobelle Report Left Out." His sources say that after the Regents decided to fire Dobelle for cause on the advice of their special-hire attorney, Barry Marr, UH attorney [and the Democratic Party's in-house watchdog] Walter Kirimitsu suggested that [long-time Democratic Party insider] Dobelle might sue the Regents individually, in which case it would be better to try mediation first.
The public also deserves some answers from former regent, chairwoman Lily Yao. The others gave her authority to work out and sign the Dobelle contract.

Why did she give Dobelle everything he wanted, including expedited (immediate) tenure? That's not uncommon if a university is trying to hire someone who's a world-class scholar, professor or researcher. Dobelle was a politician with no professorial background and a record of administration only at three very small colleges--never at a Carnegie I research institution such as the UH. Why did Yao toss in a private letter giving Dobelle extra insurance and a year's paid sabbatical without telling all the other regents?

When the regents went into session on June 15, Evan Dobelle was going to be fired. There was no question of talking to him and trying to work things out. Too many were infuriated by a previous session in which they tell me he leaned back in his chair, put his hands behind his head and I gave them his you-can't-fire-me smile as they went on about what they saw as misuse of money, bad evaluations, bad management and missed meetings.

And he almost couldn't be fired. Not one word in the contract allowed him to be fired for insubordination, failure to carry out the regents' mandates or poor evaluations. He had been made virtually fire-proof by Lily Yao's solo signature. The only question on June 15 as the regents talked with Marr over several hours was if they could stretch to a for-cause firing. Just plain firing, they agreed, didn't cut it--mainly because of that tenure business. Marr said yes.
Good riddance. Dobelle was the last straw. I've lost whatever residual faith I once had in Hawai‘i's Democratic Party.

UPDATE: In the 20 August 2004 edition of Pacific Business News, Howard Dicus explains "How Hawaii Works":
To a journalist, Dobelle's failure to deliver was the story. Something that isn't surprising, isn't news. "Family of Six Survives as Boiler Fails to Explode!" But the gap between Dobelle's crackerjack billing and slacker performance? That was surprising. [Well, he did work for the State after all.] How could a former White House protocol officer be so bad at politics? [Well, it was the Carter White House.] How could a veteran of New England winters not learn to love slippas? [Well, he apparently didn't spend all that much time in the Islands.]

By contrast, if the regents mishandled his firing, where's the news in that? The regents are a committee. We all know how committees are.

Lewis Thomas once described the collective intellect of ants by saying that one ant is an idiot, two ants are the glimmering of an idea, but an entire anthill is a marvelous brain, "with little bits for its wits."

Humans work the opposite way. One human can be an Einstein. Two humans thinking together are a compromise. Put five or six perfectly intelligent humans around a table and a camel begins to appear in the paddock. And so on, all the way up to the Board of Regents.

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