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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, July 04, 2001

Volcanic Ash
Clayton Hee is making a mess of OHA

By David Shapiro

In 1999, the Office of Hawaiian Affairs was in chaos as its trustees fought bitterly and vital land negotiations with the state broke down.

David Shapiro
Clayton Hee scolded his fellow trustees. "It's frankly ridiculous that the board is unable to work together," he said. "Ultimately it harms the beneficiaries we serve."

It's time for Hee to follow his own advice.

The spectacle of OHA's attempt to select a new administrator finds the board as divided as ever. Battling trustees couldn't muster a quorum for a meeting last week, sending OHA into its new fiscal year with no permanent administrator or budget.

Hee is in the middle of the latest dysfunction. He's been in a snit since Haunani Apoliona beat him out for OHA chair for the new term and seems bent on using his considerable political skills to disrupt her leadership.

That's been his pattern for a decade. Either he's held the chair and ruled imperiously or he's been a petulant dissident working to thwart the rule of others.

He seemed to elevate his game when he coolly led OHA through the tumult after the U.S. Supreme Court opened OHA elections to non-Hawaiians in Rice v. Cayetano. The Rice decision suited Hee's ambition to ride his name recognition among non-Hawaiians to higher office — first lieutenant governor and then Congress.

But after being ousted as chairman, he reverted to his old form — joined by Charles Ota, the foul-mouthed loose cannon who is OHA's first non-Hawaiian trustee. Ota has attached himself to Hee like a carbuncle.

Together they refused committee assignments after the board reorganized.

They boycotted interviews to select a new administrator. Hee instigated a public tiff with OHA attorney Sherry Broder so unbecoming that Apoliona had to ask him to leave the meeting.

This act won't play in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Hee said he boycotted interviews for administrator because the meetings were held at the Pacific Club, which he condemned for its history of discrimination against minorities and women.

"Imagine that," Hee chided repeatedly in a protest letter.

Yes, current leaders hold meetings in strange places such as private clubs and cigar bars, but it's a side issue. As sincere as Hee's contempt for the Pacific Club may be, his transparent aim was to obstruct the selection of a new administrator because he didn't have the votes for his own choice.

These are not matters of principle or substance. It's about personal power.

Hee and Ota have succeeded in disrupting the tenuous majority Apoliona leads. Halfway through the first year of their term, trustees have done little to benefit Hawaiians.

It's too bad. Apoliona and majority trustees Oswald Stender, John Waihee IV, Donald Cataluna and Collette Machado have been diligent and reasonably businesslike in recruiting an administrator and dealing with the state auditor's critical report on OHA operations. It would be interesting to see how functional they could become without the distracting antics of Hee and Ota.

If trustees won't pull together, OHA's $300 million trust to better the lives of Hawaiians could be lost. The means to take it away are in place with open OHA elections and legal challenges to OHA's constitutionality.

Hee has every right to voice his dissent. But he owes it to OHA beneficiaries to find common ground with the majority when he can and to be less disruptive when he must dissent.

Clayton Hee has a long history of refusing to play nice unless he's in charge. Now he wants us to elect him lieutenant governor — the state's ultimate not-in-charge job.

Imagine that.

David Shapiro can be reached by email at dave@volcanicash.net