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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, August 13, 2004

Regents' minutes reveal concerns about Dobelle

 •  Board of Regents assesses Dobelle
 •  How regents reached decision

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

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.

Some correspondence regarding Dobelle's job search was conducted by his personal assistant, Kristin Blanchfield, on state time using state resources.

Those details are contained in 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 general categories of misuse of public funds and the use of university resources for private benefit, which this would fall under, was a matter of great concern to the regents," their attorney William McCorriston said yesterday.

The minutes of the June 15 meeting at which Dobelle was fired clearly show the regents' concerns that they were being lied to by the president. Their questions about his integrity are evident as well.

"His dishonesty and lying are most troubling," chairwoman Patricia Lee is quoted as saying.

In the June 2 minutes, vice chairwoman Kitty Lagareta said: "The fact that President Dobelle continues to lie to the board and to the public is truly disheartening and destructive to any kind of a working partnership with the board."

She cited the release of chief financial officer J.R.W. "Wick" Sloane from his contract with the university, saying that it had been Dobelle who was "disappointed" with Sloane and who said he would "terminate him" or help him leave the university, although Dobelle publicly supported Sloane when the board did not renew his contract.

Dobelle could not be reached for comment yesterday, but his attorney, L. Richard Fried Jr., said last night that "none of the matters that were raised about him being dishonest or lying were ever raised by anybody or passed on to him by any of the regents."

Yesterday marked the second release of documents concerning the dispute between Dobelle and the regents, and while the documents didn't point to a specific reason for his June 15 firing, they perhaps begin to give a clearer idea into what regents were considering as they weighed his dismissal "for cause."

Documents show that Dobelle began job-hunting as far back as last October — as his relationship was seriously deteriorating with the regents, but long before they moved to remove him as president.

On his behalf, a number of East Coast friends intervened to arrange interviews with several private colleges and the Asia Society, and he flew to Hong Kong at one point for the latter. In at least one e-mail communication with people involved in the job hunt, Dobelle cautioned them that the process was confidential.

Fried said that there are "headhunters who call people all the time (who) they think would be good candidates.

"He was happy here in Hawai'i," said Fried. "These are all calls that came unsolicited by Evan. I think he knew some people there (at the Asia Society) and talked to them, but he was never thinking of leaving the university early."

Fried said if Blanchfield "responded to a call or two it seems to me it's not a big deal."

In many cases the university and the foundation paid bills for the trips that included "personal days" taken by Dobelle, although there is no complete documentation showing how much may have been reimbursed by Dobelle for personal expenses.

The board and Dobelle reached a mediated agreement signed on July 29, with regents rescinding their "for cause" firing, and Dobelle agreeing to resign effective tomorrow to become a non-tenured faculty researcher. Both sides agreed there was no wrongdoing by either.

Documents released yesterday detail a number of matters that regents considered in their deliberations on Dobelle's termination, including:

• An e-mail from John Gorman, whose Massachusetts firm Opinion Dynamics Corp. conducted a survey for Dobelle, notes that Dobelle had e-mailed him asking him to change the date of the second survey from February 2003 to February 2004 and noting that Dobelle wanted "the sensitive information removed."

The minutes show that regents said they could not get Dobelle's office to give them a copy of the survey.

But Fried said Dobelle has told him repeatedly that "the first time the regents asked for it, they got it."

• Repayments to the UH Foundation for personal expenses as far back as two years by Dobelle were made as Deloitte & Touche began their audit of the discretionary protocol fund.

"There was a definite flurry of reimbursements when Deloitte began their audit," the minutes of the June 2 meeting note, quoting from Deloitte auditor Gary Nishikawa.

• Alternate use of a $25,000 contribution from a New York family for a lectureship in Jewish studies. Part of this money — about $7,500 — was used to produce a video when Dobelle was honored in 2002 by the Sales and Marketing Executives of Hawaii. The video was completed by the Juniroa firm after three bids were requested. Documents from the UH internal auditor indicate that Blanchfield had told the UH Foundation that the donor did not care how the money was used, but subsequent correspondence indicated the money was intended for a lectureship.

Fried said that there had been a clerical error within the foundation, that Dobelle knew nothing about this, and that the money has all been put back in the fund.

• Lack of written documents to substantiate what was provided in exchange for a $10,000 payment to Elizabeth "Betsy" Sloane for an oral report on the UH Foundation several months before she was hired as its executive director. The contract and payment for services provided — with a page marked "complete" — were issued simultaneously.

In response, Fried said Sloane did the review "at modest cost," with the foundation president's approval as well as Dobelle's.

• An agreement with Sloane, according to the June 15 minutes, "to give him (Dobelle) a $50,000 increase in his protocol fund without coming to the board in return for increasing the money the university pays to the foundation." The minutes note that "past board chairperson Lily Yao's agreement gave him (Dobelle) a $150,000 protocol fund so President Dobelle should have at least come to the board to justify an increase."

In response, Fried said that extra money was given to other administrators within the system for their use.

• The regents also examined records relating to four Colby (Maine) College students who enjoyed one month's free food and lodging at a UH dormitory in January 2002. Dobelle arranged for the four young men to stay free of charge during winter break. The cost to the university was $1,944. After they left, six towels, six washcloths, a sheet, a pillowcase and a key were missing from their rooms. The university absorbed those costs, too. "I don't think it's good to charge Dobelle's guests," one UH staffer wrote in a memo on the subject.

Fried said Dobelle's hope was "to explore an exchange between the two" schools.

According to the minutes of the June 2 meeting, national educator Robert Atwell, whom the board hired to do Dobelle's third-year evaluation, called the relationship between the board and the president "irretrievably broken.

The minutes note Atwell reported that "even among the president's supporters there were doubts about his leadership and credibility." And Atwell recommended that whatever the board decides to do, "it needs to do it quickly and allow the university to get past these problems with the president."

Staff writer Jim Dooley contributed to this report. Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8013.

• • •


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."