Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, July 22, 2004

Ethics probe against Dobelle lacks weight

Since June 15, when University of Hawai'i President Evan Dobelle was fired "for cause" by the Board of Regents, students, faculty and the state's taxpayers have learned precious little about what that "cause" might be.

Evan Dobelle

Rep. K. Mark Takai

As defined under the terms of Dobelle's contract, "cause" would have to be tantamount to criminal behavior, corruption or mental illness.

Attorneys for Dobelle and the board are now in their third week of mediation over the firing — about which we've expressed mixed feelings. While it's desirable to use mediation to avoid the extravagant costs and public ugliness of a trial over whether the firing was fair, the public must insist in the end on a full accounting of why the regents acted as they did.

We're talking about taxpayer money here, after all.

In this atmosphere, rumors about the cause of the firing have swirled incessantly, and reporters have looked at tangential developments to see how they shed light on the regents-Dobelle contretemps.

An example is Advertiser reporter Beverly Creamer's examination of an ethics complaint filed against Dobelle March 29 by state Rep. K. Mark Takai.

Takai asked the state Ethics Commission to evaluate whether Dobelle should have filed gift-disclosure reports for money he received from his protocol fund, and whether the cost of two trips he made should have been filed as gifts.

By the very filing of this complaint, Takai enables Dobelle's critics to say he's "under investigation" for ethics violations.

Yet it appears the complaints are without substance. The two trips Takai complains of appear to be legitimate state business — one trip to Moloka'i to meet with community college personnel, and the other, made at the behest of then-Gov. Ben Cayetano, to encourage Japanese students, in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, to attend college here.

These trips were not "gifts," but pursuit of the UH president's job. From the descriptions we now read about these two trips, they were anything but junkets, designed to impact Dobelle in his decision-making role.

The protocol fund, similarly, existed to "assist the president in performing the duties and functions of his office."

Dobelle in the end may have a lot to answer for in the way he conducted himself as UH president. But Takai's notion that any such expenses should have been reported by Dobelle as "gifts" seems a stretch at best.