Senate president hopes to reform how UH operates

Response to "Wonder Blunder" concert fiasco

Published  6:36 PM HST Jan 30, 2013
HONOLULU -

The aftermath of last year's failed University of Hawaii benefit concert featuring Stevie Wonder has resulted in six bills that would strip power from the University of Hawaii president, and reform how the Board of Regents conducts business.

The bills were introduced by Senate President Donna Mercado Kim, who last year led an investigation into the so-called "Wonder Blunder" as the former chair of the Special Committee on Accountability.

"We're trying to tell the regents, and empower the regents, that they need to give more oversight," Kim told KITV4. "There were problems and issues that came out of the concert hearings, and I think there's a consensus that we need to get the regents to take better control."

The measures introduced by Kim would do the following:

SB 1383 – Repeals the President of the University of Hawaii's authority to serve as the Chief Procurement Officer for construction contracts.

SB 1384 – Limits the Board of Regents to appointing one University General Counsel.

SB 1385 – Requires the Board of Regents to undergo annual training and certification.

SB 1386 – Requires the Board of Regents to file annual disclosure of financial interest.

SB 1387 – Gives the Governor the authority to reject the list of nominees to the Board of Regents presented by the Regents Candidate Advisory Council.

SB 1388 – Reduces the number of members of the Board of Directors of the Research Corporation of the University of Hawaii (RCUH) from 5 to 2, and removes the authority of the President of the University to also serve as the President of RCUH.

University of Hawaii spokeswoman Jodi Leong released a statement to KITV4 saying UH would be reviewing all proposed legislation and would present testimony at the appropriate time.

Even Rep. Mark Takai, a House Democrat who championed UH autonomy through the passage of a constitutional amendment in 2000, believes Kim is on the right track. Section 10, Article 6 of the Hawaii Constitution includes language that allows lawmakers to "enact laws of statewide concern" regarding the university.   

"I think it's important for us at this moment to take a look at governance issues, procurement issues, Board of Regents issues and the whole gamut as it relates to the university," said Takai. "It's totally within our prerogative to look at some of the concerns that have been raised over the past year."

The concert blunder last summer resulted in the university losing $200,000 to a company that claimed to represent Wonder, and forced the removal of Jim Donovan as UH Manoa athletics director. It also led to UH President MRC Greenwood threatening to sue UH for breach of contract, a threat that was later rescinded.  However, Kim is greatly concerned about $2 million in legal fees that she says UH has spent on outside attorneys.

"So there's a huge discrepancy there, and that's a lot of money when you're talking about scholarships or positions for some of the (UH) programs," said Kim.

Kim believes there is strong support among her fellow lawmakers to reform how the university conducts business. However Sen. Clayton Hee, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, is fearful the Legislature may go too far.

"I suppose there's a message being sent by the Senate president to the university president, but at the end of the day, in order for the university to flourish, it needs to exercise some independence and it needs to exercise some autonomy," said Hee.

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