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Greenwood defends UH before Senate panel on concert

By Ferd Lewis & Mary Vorsino

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LAST UPDATED: 08:06 p.m. HST, Sep 24, 2012


A state Senate panel grilled University of Hawaii President M.R.C. Greenwood for about two hours this afternoon about the failed Stevie Wonder concert and its aftermath, including the reassignment of former athletic director Jim Donovan.

Greenwood acknowledged to the state Senate Special Committee on Accountability that the event "was poorly conceived and administered by those in charge."

Under intense questioning from committee chairwoman Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, Greenwood also said UH officials were under political pressure to reinstate Donovan to his previous position. "We were given strong advice to put him back (as athletic director) or there will be consequences," Greenwood said without naming who was applying the pressure.

Under further questioning, Greenwood said, "My job is on the line so I might as well be clear" and she went on to explain that while Gov. Neil Abercrombie did not tell her what to do, but he offered advice "on the best action to take." 

Greenwood said Abercrombie told her that the Senate President Shan Tsutsui and Speaker of the House Calvin Say wanted Donovan to finish out his contract.

"I've said enough," Greenwood told Kim. "If you want more, senator, you're going to have to put me under oath."

The Governor's Office issued a written response this afternoon.

“I stated very clearly to President Greenwood that my sole concern was for fairness and even-handedness," Abercrombie said. "I also stressed that any and all decisions made in the wake of the concert failure ensure that all responsible parties be held to account.”

Greenwood said that Donovan's attorney "took advantage of the situation" resulting in his reassignment to a position in the Manoa Chancellor's office.

Greenwood cited "the WAC and Mac" as reasons for not letting Donovan continue after he was cleared of "wrongdoing" in the Wonder controversy despite having eight months remaining on his contract that expires in March. She said she and the regents did not approve of Donovan's handling of the breakup of the Western Athletic Conference or asking for an extension of football coach Greg McMackin.

The UH president started her testimony with a defense of the UH. "It appears that people have forgotten that the money was stolen from us, not by us," she said in a statement before being questioned by the five state senators on the State Senate Special Committee on Accountability. "Our recent and continuing successes not our stumbles should and do make the University of Hawaii a leader."

"I do not believe this is a systematic problem. I believe what we had was an individual episode," she said during the questioning. She apologized repeatedly during her testimony and she also said several times that the whole "episode" was a "perfect storm."

Asked by Sen. Sam Slom if Greenwood could lose her job because of the Wonder concert failure, UH Board of Regents Chairman Eric Martinson said no, that Greenwood's job is not in jeopardy.

Today's hearing ended with Martinson's testimony. It lasted for six hours.

The Wonder concert saga began in June when university officials announced that the pop star had agreed to an Aug. 18 performance to benefit the UH athletics department. Ticket sales were well under way by July 10 when Donovan announced that there would be no concert after all because Wonder and his representatives had not authorized the event. About 6,000 ticket holders had to be refunded.

The next day, UH-Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple announced that Donovan and Stan Sheriff Center manager Rich Sheriff were placed on indefinite paid administrative leave while an investigation of the canceled Stevie Wonder concert was conducted. UH officials also explained they had paid $200,000 to a Florida company that purported to be authorized to book the star. Wonder's representatives later contacted UH officials to say they had not authorized the concert or received any payment. Greenwood acknowledged that the university was apparently a victim of fraud.

In August, Sheriff was reinstated and Donovan, whose athletic director s contract was to expire in March, was re-assigned to a new, vaguely defined marketing role in the UH-Manoa chancellor's office in a three-year deal that pays him more than $200,000 annually. Documents released to the Star-Advertiser under the state's open records law showed that the UH agreed to the deal in return for Donovan agreeing not to sue the school.

At today's hearing, Greenwood called the alleged fraud a "sophisticated" scam, but panel member state Sen. Sam Slom (R, Diamond Head-Hawaii Kai) disagreed.

"We keep hearing that this was sophisticated scam but to any rational person this wouldn't be sophisticated at all," Slom said.

Kim lectured Greenwood on transparency and took her to task for telling a local business group that she considered the Legislature as a minority shareholder in the university.

Greenwood responded, "I think we can all agree that I'm perfectly capable of putting my foot in my mouth."

The Senate panel began its investigation this afternoon of the concert fiasco which has cost the UH hundreds of thousands of dollars and damaged the school administration's reputation. The panel's first hearing today is being held before a standing-room-only crowd in a second floor meeting room at the Capitol.

Kim started the hearing by saying that the FBI declined to attend and would not confirm or deny an investigation.

Dennis Chong Kee of the Cades Schutte law firm, the "fact-finders" who compiled the UH investigation of the failed concert, was the first witness. Chong Kee said he did not interview Greenwood for the fact-finders report.

"I didn't think it was worth the time to interview her," he said.

Kim asked Chong Kee if he felt he could render an independent study since his firm is frequently hired by UH.

"I felt I was independent," Chong Kee said. "I was not concerned about that."

Kim was quick to ask about the whereabouts of the $200,000 UH wired for a purported deposit for the Wonder concert and whether the UH investigation determined its whereabouts.

Chong Kee said he did not investigate the trail of the missing $200,000 beyond that it was wired to a Florida bank on June 26 by UH.

"Beyond that I didn't investigate," Chong Kee said. "I don't know where the money went after the university wired it."

Under repeated questioning about his firm's billing of UH for the investigation, Chong Kee said bill "might be more than $50,000," which had previously been reported as the maximum cost of the contract.

Kim has said she wants to find out the total cost of the ill-fated concert and the reasons behind some of the decisions made by Greenwood and her staff in the aftermath.

In addition to the lost $200,000 deposit and Donovan's three-year contract, the university has paid tens of thousands of dollars to at least two outside law firms and to a public relations firm to help administrators grapple with the aftermath.

Most recently, the UH acknowledged hiring Honolulu attorney Robert S. Katz and his firm, Torkildson Katz Moore Hetherington & Harris, to assist in preparation for today's Senate hearing. The firm will be paid a maximum of $25,000, according to the UH.

Kim has said the overall cost of the concert debacle is one of the key areas she wants to explore today.

She said the committee has asked for documents concerning the hiring of outside legal and public relations help and buyouts of several former employees, including Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw and football coach Greg McMackin.

Kim said the committee has received several large binders of information from UH containing requested materials.

Written testimony may be submitted to scatestimony@capitol.hawaii.gov. At the start of today's hearing, Kim said the committee recevied more than 50 written testimonies.

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