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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, May 22, 2009

Kamehameha crisis years recounted


BY Rick Daysog
Advertiser Staff Writer

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser
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Lokelani Lindsey was livid.

As hundreds marched to protest her micromanagement of Kamehameha Schools' Kapalama Heights campus on May 15, 1997, Lindsey, the so-called lead trustee for the school's educational programs, jotted down names of participants while staffers snapped photographs and videotaped them.

"Mrs. Lindsey had a list. I saw a yellow notepad on her desk that had names on it. They were asking people to identify or tell them. They were asking employees. Other people were asking, too," said former Kamehameha Schools Communications Director Elisa Yadao.

"All of the enemies had names the people who marched. It was intended to intimidate them."

Yadao's account of the 1997 march is detailed in a new book: "Wayfinding through the Storm: Speaking Truth to Power at Kamehameha Schools 1993-1999."

The late 1990s Bishop Estate scandal has been the subject of several recent studies.

The removal of $1 million-a-year board members Lindsey, Henry Peters, Richard "Dickie" Wong, Gerard Jervis and Oswald Stender was the subject of University of Hawai'i law professor and federal Judge Sam King's 2006 book "Broken Trust," and former Gov. Ben Cayetano dedicated a significant portion of his autobiography to the controversy.

But what's different about "Wayfinding" is that the story is told from the point of view of the Kamehameha 'ohana the students, parents, graduates, teachers and estate staffers who stood up to the corporate boardroom abuses and mismanagement of the Kapalama Heights campus.

Edited by noted local author and historian Gavan Daws with the help of members of the teachers group Na Kumu o Kamehameha, "Wayfinding" is an oral history that strings together the recollections of more than 150 people on the tumultuous period, starting with the events leading up to the 1997 march to Lindsey's removal.

For some, the oral history format, which uses strings of quotes, might be difficult to follow. But Daws and his co-editors do a good job of weaving the voices together to tell a coherent story about one of the state's biggest political and financial scandals.

In his foreword to "Wayfinding," Daws wrote that the 1990s was "the most disastrous decade in Kamehameha's history" when it "should have been the best of times."

The estate's board members faced multiple criminal and civil investigations by the Attorney General's office and the Internal Revenue Service, which later threatened to revoke the trust's tax-exempt status. One trustee, Jervis, was caught having sex with a trust attorney in a bathroom in a Waikiki hotel. The female attorney later committed suicide. A trust manager, former Sen. Milton Holt, was investigated by the AG's Office and the IRS for using his estate credit cards to take lawmakers to local hostess bars.

Lindsey was eventually convicted of federal bankruptcy fraud charges and served six months in prison. She did not return calls to her Las Vegas home.

For the majority trustees to allow Lindsey, a former physical education teacher and ex-Maui Schools superintendent, to run the Kapalama Heights campus was "a corruption and perversion of the historic mission of Kamehameha Schools," Daws wrote.

"Educationally, she was ignorant and arrogant. She invaded classrooms and terrorized teachers. She abused them and insulted their professional competence. All across campus, she disrupted and derailed programs," Daws wrote.

"History by its nature is complex and tangled. But if any one person could be singled out as being decisive in bringing on the crisis at Kamehameha, it was Lokelani Lindsey."

A recurring theme in the book is how ordinary people, facing the threats of retribution, refused to back down.

"Wayfinding" tells the story of a Kamehameha Schools teacher who asked a parent during a telephone conversation whether her son had been tested for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The student was a relative of Lindsey's.

Several minutes after the phone call, the teacher told a colleague that she received a call from Lindsey who threatened to fire her for insinuating that her relative had ADHD.

Laurie Childers, who was in charge of the computers at the estate's Kawaiahao Plaza headquarters, recounted another story of intimidation.

One morning, one of Childers' co-workers told her that Lindsey had come into the computer room with some of her people and deleted a number of files. He told Childers that they wanted her to permanently delete some of those files.

At the time, the estate's trustees were under investigation by the trust, and many of the trust's records had been subpoenaed.

Childers said she refused, and her husband Richard Childers later called the Attorney General's Office about the request. After granting the AG's Office an interview, Childers said her husband received an anonymous threatening call.

That night the AG's Office provided armed guards to the Childers' house, and for a while, the state sent an armed guard to watch the couple's daughter at her school.

Former trustee Oswald Stender, who successfully sued to get Lindsey removed from the board, said he received similar anonymous phone calls as well as letters at his home.

Daws said the purpose of the book was to get to the personal experience of those who lived through the crisis years.

"For me, the story is good because it shows the value of standing up for the right, not just lying down and letting the abuse of power run over you," Daws wrote in an e-mail.