UH And The Legislature

After the Stevie Wonder “blunder,” there was a consensus among those who keep an eye on the University of Hawaii system that when the legislative session convened, it would attempt to tighten its grip on many of the executive functions at UH.

Now they are attempting to do just that. Of course, the majority of the proposals have to do with management policy dealing with procurement, executive salaries and scrutiny over executive leaves for those awarded sabbaticals with pay.

It’s going to take a couple of years for the advanced scrutiny of everything the UH executives suggest to subside. Then things will return to normal and it will be business as usual at UH. A couple of high-ranking employees will be thrown under the bus, and there will be a lot of unconfirmed rumors flying around town.

People who are aware of how the University of Hawaii works can probably give you a long list of “favors” that were bestowed on “friends” over the years. Let’s face it, this is a small island and everyone knows everyone’s business. If they don’t, they will make it up so it sounds like they do.

Example: The university says it will investigate allegations that a top UH executive has wasted state money by mismanaging construction projects and steering contracts to firms operated by friends or relatives of friends. It’s one of the most popular charges leveled at those who are in a position to award contracts. Many of the rumors are started by those who were not awarded contracts, though that was not the case here.

I learned a valuable lesson about the awarding of contracts to friends when covering the Kukui Plaza trial in the 1970s. As the scandal raged on, the tension mounted, and finally it was time for developer Hal Hansen to face off against then-Mayor Frank Fasi. Two questions settled the question of mismanagement. First, they asked Hansen, under oath, if he was given any special consideration in the awarding of the Plaza contract. He refused to testify, taking the fifth.

When the outspoken Fasi took the stand under oath, the prosecutor asked him quickly, “Mr. Mayor, did you award the contract to Mr. Hansen because he was your old friend?” The mayor didn’t bat an eye and shot back, “Naturally. Would you want me to award a lucrative contract like that to an enemy?”

Hawaii is a small state. To think for a minute that our executives don’t reward their friends with choice positions or rich contracts is absurd. As long as they are qualified, why should anyone be shocked?

I think it’s a good idea the Legislature is taking a closer look at UH, but they need to be reasonable. There’s evidence that being awarded a contract by the state government is not always a financial bonanza.