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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 21, 2003

Estate must explain itself

By David Shapiro

Kamehameha Schools trustees must abandon their secrecy about the abrupt departure of CEO Hamilton McCubbin if they hope to end speculation that is giving the school another black eye it can ill-afford as it rebuilds from a long period of turmoil.

Furtive dealings and heavy-handed management by the previous board of trustees ignited drawn-out investigations that left the school in tumultuous limbo for three years before the five trustees were ousted.

The last thing current trustees should do is perpetuate the discredited old practice of keeping Hawaiians and the general public in the dark about vital management decisions.

McCubbin himself has no right to privacy after he issued a statement vaguely blaming nefarious forces within the school for his sudden resignation just months after trustees extended his $350,000-a-year contract for three more years.

If the trustees won't clear the air, it's up to the state attorney general and probate court to step in as guardians of the massive trust and restore confidence that the former Bishop Estate is being capably run.

McCubbin achieved many worthy goals as Kamehameha's first CEO, stabilizing a broken institution after years of unrest and restoring a businesslike sense of order to the management of the trust.

He returned focus to the primary mission of Kamehameha Schools — education of Hawaiian children. The main campuses grew, and creative outreach programs expanded to serve more Hawaiians as education spending hit record highs.

But there were bumps. McCubbin's brusque style offended some in the Kamehameha family, and his decision with the trustees to admit a non-Hawaiian student to the Maui campus exposed bitter divisions.

Two other top executives, chief educational officer Dudley Hare and chief financial officer Eric Yeaman, resigned only months before McCubbin, raising worry about instability at the top of the organization.

McCubbin's graceless departure under mysterious circumstances only feeds that concern.

The CEO said he quit to spend more time with his family and return to teaching, but reports circulated that trustees had investigated a possibly inappropriate relationship with an employee.

That revived interest in his resignation from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, also amid allegations of sexual misconduct, before coming to Kamehameha Schools.

McCubbin says he was exonerated of any wrongdoing in Wisconsin, and his family and supporters bristle that the old charges have unfairly come up again.

But McCubbin and the trustees have only their own secrecy to blame for the speculation. Trustees have been mostly silent, and McCubbin says he can't talk about the details of his resignation because it's a personnel matter.

His initial claim that it's about spending more time with his family doesn't pass the credibility test. And it raises red flags that trustees wanted him out badly.

McCubbin's latest statement obliquely blames his departure on malicious persecution and charges that "ill will, rather than the truth, continues to be a dysfunctional part of the Kamehameha Schools."

That poisons the atmosphere as the organization moves ahead, and makes it incumbent on trustees to publicly clarify whether this is a case of personal misconduct or institutional dysfunction.

Attorney General Mark Bennett has been complicit in the secrecy. He met privately with trustees and said he won't pursue the matter, evoking memories of previous indifference by state attorneys that enabled the misdeeds of former trustees.

McCubbin boasts that Kamehameha Schools, under his leadership, "made a public pronouncement to be open and honest with the Hawaiian people."

Now is a perfect time for him and the trustees to live up to that promise.

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