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Senator takes action on homestead issues

Brian Schatz meets with the Interior Department on fixing problems reported by the Star-Advertiser

By Rob Perez

LAST UPDATED: 04:33 p.m. HST, Feb 12, 2014

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz met with a high-level federal official this week to discuss mismanagement and oversight problems at the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands that were exposed in a just-published Star-Advertiser series.

"I am deeply concerned about a system that is clearly falling short in helping (Native Hawaiian) beneficiaries," Schatz said in a statement to the newspaper. "The rules, procedures and processes of (DHHL) must be transparent, accountable, understandable and consistent."

According to Schatz's office, the senator arranged the meeting with Rhea Suh, assistant secretary for policy, management and budget at the Department of the Interior, specifically to discuss the findings of the newspaper's series.

The Star-Advertiser investigation disclosed numerous problems with a DHHL program in which land not designated for homesteading use or not expected to be developed for years is leased on a month-to-month basis at deeply discounted rates. Among the problems uncovered were selective enforcement of the revocable permits — what the rental agreements are called — and a lack of administrative rules governing how permits are awarded and rents established. In some cases, violations went unchecked for years.

"Earlier this week, I met with (the assistant secretary) to request her personal involvement in ensuring that the Department of the Interior exercises its oversight authority with the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust," Schatz said.

DHHL administers a federally established trust of more than 200,000 acres, and its main mission is to get beneficiaries — those at least 50 percent Native Hawaiian — onto homestead lots to promote self-sufficiency. The Interior Department is the federal agency with oversight responsibility.

The permit program is designed to get tenants onto land that lacks infrastructure and is not ready for homestead use, and the tenants, not the department, are responsible for upkeep of the property. At the same time, the program generates revenue that can be invested in homesteading efforts.

But the agency's slow pace of developing homestead lots — DHHL cites funding challenges — has meant that the permits, designed to be short-term agreements, have over time evolved into long-term ones instead, while more than 26,000 beneficiaries wait for homestead lots to become available.

Schatz said in his statement that he spoke to Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who told Schatz that the Abercrombie administration would be taking immediate action to address the problems outlined in the series.

"Both Assistant Secretary Suh and Gov. Abercrombie assured me of their commitment to solve these problems, and I will stay personally engaged on the critical issue through the relevant committee structure of Congress," Schatz said.

Abercrombie, in a statement to the newspaper, said the "new DHHL administration is committed to reviewing and, where applicable, altering its existing policies."

He said the points raised in the series are "legacy issues, which are already being addressed by DHHL. I appointed DHHL chairperson Jobie Masa­ga­tani to improve the department, and I'm confident that she and the DHHL staff will bring any necessary changes by managing DHHL properly, setting guidance and providing leadership support."

Jessica Kershaw, an Interior Department spokes­woman, said in a statement that her agency "takes our obligations to the Native Hawaiian community very seriously. We appreciate the opportunity to work with the state of Hawaii and the Native Hawaiian community to ensure the health of the Hawaiian Home Lands Trust."

Masagatani declined comment for this story.

As noted in the series, DHHL Deputy Director Darrell Young, responding to the newspaper's findings, said his agency was instituting a 60- to 90-day moratorium on issuing new permits and would review all existing ones — about 180 — to determine whether they should be continued, modified or terminated. He also said the agency would look for ways to make the permit awards more transparent and productive, and would check the existing agreements for compliance.

The issue of federal oversight of DHHL historically has been unclear, some say.

U.S. Rep. Colleen Hana­busa said in a statement to the newspaper that she didn't think Interior "has ever shown that it believes it has oversight responsibility over the day-to-day operations" of DHHL.

But as new laws have been enacted and funding provided, the Interior Department has recognized it has a role to play, especially with the creation of its Office of Native Hawaiian Relations, Hana­busa wrote.

She added that the federal government's relationship with Native Hawaiians is being developed, including recognition to assist beneficiaries in accessing programs and achieving greater success on their homesteads.

"This may result in Interior taking a different view with regard to its obligations to the beneficiaries," Hana­busa said.

Asked whether she believed federal oversight is sufficient, U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono noted the tremendous responsibility DHHL has in managing its trust relationship with Native Hawaiians.

"The Star-Advertiser's recent series on the department's programs and practices raised some concerns which I hope the department will address appropriately," Hirono said in her statement to the newspaper.

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Manoa_Fisherman wrote:
Lets start fixing the problems at DHHL by firing all the Abercrombie flunkies who are working there.
on May 8,2013 | 02:16AM
MalamaKaAina wrote:
Meeting and talking is just motion not action!
on May 8,2013 | 02:17AM
MalamaKaAina wrote:
Action is immediate termination of all leases/permits in violation!
on May 8,2013 | 02:23AM
hukihei wrote:
on May 8,2013 | 08:38AM
OldEnoughToRemember wrote:
on May 8,2013 | 09:05AM
mitt_grund wrote:
Another reach for votes by Schatz. Read the headlines and knee jerk react. What happened to when he was a state rep and lt. gov.? Note he has already begun to use Asian persuasion of his significant other. His focusing on the "newly uncovered" favoritism and inequity would be a welcome move if his motives were not so transparent.
on May 8,2013 | 04:07AM
allie wrote:
The corruption out here has been known by all for decades. Glad that Rob's story embarrassed Schatz into finally doing something. But this begin Hawaii and Hawaiians loving the chance to rip each other off-not to mention the public-look for nothing to be done.
on May 8,2013 | 02:03PM
wiliki wrote:
IIRC there are example's of this kind of thing happening on Indian reservations. I don't the feds ever try to interfere unless their help is needed. Hawaiians will have to work this out.
on May 8,2013 | 03:58PM
postmanx wrote:
Round I goes to Brian Schatz!
on May 8,2013 | 04:42PM
Oahuan2 wrote:
There is plenty land that the wait lists could be cleared entirely and the beneficiaries could begin to develop their land now. And issues such as Sen. Solomon's land being land locked from her mother's homestead is absurd. What DHHL is incapable of creating an easement accessing that property and dividing it among 10 or 15 beneficiaries? Good for you, Brian, for having the chutzpah to make some noise and stop this legacy of cheating.
on May 8,2013 | 02:50AM
Mythman wrote:
Sorry, Cong Hanabusa's view is incorrect legally and historically, repeating the Inouye line, which was woefully ignorant of legal factual reality and resulted in part in the undeserved massive suffering of native Hawaiians. Sen Schatz and Gov Abercrombie are right on target. Federal trust was firmly established in the 1980s by Price v US DoJ, which also resulted in 600 million dollars in funding for the DHHL as a result of wrongful alienation of trust corpus lands by the then governor and his cronies. That's "Price" as in Doctor Nui Loa Price, aka Chief Maui Loa. A grammatical point is that the legal term as found in the 1921 federal legislation is small "n" as in native Hawaiian. This series used consistently the incorrect legal term capital "N" Native Hawaiian, which is a term made up by the state's Office of Hawaiian Affairs and is more or less the same as the term "Hawaiian" as used today to mean someone with any drop of blood of the Hawaiians found here in 1778 and AFTER 1778, meaning Chinese and White settlers who started to come after Cook.
on May 8,2013 | 03:00AM
allie wrote:
her dark past is truly dreadful as is her nothing Congressional record
on May 8,2013 | 02:04PM
Nana1 wrote:
The Gov says he appointed Masagatani to address the "legacy isues" and improve the Dept. Is he for real?? Jobie Yamaguchi Masagatani was the deputy under Ray Soon in 2000 when Malama Solomon was offered the 100 acres at $0.99 an acre.This is the leader who is going to improve DHHL? The Director who has yet to comment over the last 4 days of articles who is placing her deputy in the forefront to respond to questions. Hooray for Senator Schatz for taking this to the dept of interior.
on May 8,2013 | 03:44AM
Mythman wrote:
Are you aware, Nana1, that Ray Soon is a special advisor to Neil Abercrombie?
on May 8,2013 | 04:39AM
Leinanij wrote:
And also got a non-bid contract worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to "help" SHPD comply with federal monitoring so it wouldn't lose grant money. So far, SHPD has not complied and still has serious deficiencies according to the National Park Service.
on May 8,2013 | 07:49AM
hawaiinui wrote:
It's laughable! We got to pay out tax money to "help" out SHPD. Why or why do we pay those Directors and underlings big $$$ if not for the basics...like compliance and good record keeping? Just another State department flying under the radar (for decades) that has caused us lots of grief and is an embarassment to everyone in the State.
on May 8,2013 | 09:52AM
false wrote:
Now the mystery begins to unfold. Historically what other directors are part of this mess?
on May 8,2013 | 08:42AM
hukihei wrote:
He worked hard on the campaign that elected Abercrombie and Schatz. Kinda hard to do something about one's buddies. Methinks Sen Schatz is trying to do some damage control for his campaign.
on May 8,2013 | 08:45AM
hukihei wrote:
You have to wonder about former Lt. Gov. Schatz: what did he do during his stint?
on May 8,2013 | 08:42AM
peanutgallery wrote:
This entitlement program should be scrapped for the good of everyone, but mostly for the Hawaiians who are constantly told they can't succed without a hand-out.
on May 8,2013 | 03:51AM
Mythman wrote:
It is not a "hand out" - do your homework. Google United States Indian Land Policy for a start.
on May 8,2013 | 04:39AM
mitt_grund wrote:
Another reach for votes by Schatz. Read the headlines and had a media moment reaction. Why didn't he take note when he was a state rep and lt. gov.? Note he has already begun to use Asian persuasion of his significant other. Would be a welcome move if his motives were not so transparent.
on May 8,2013 | 04:09AM
Mythman wrote:
Why didn't Sen Schatz "take note" when he was a state rep? Answer" because there was a guy in DC named Dan Inouye who ran the show back home from DC. The messed up system was part and parcel of the insider corruption Dan masterminded, IMO as one reason Sen Schatz had to wait until he was in DC to clean up the old mess.
on May 8,2013 | 04:41AM
keei wrote:
So Schatz as state legislature and Lt. Gov had to wait until Dan Inouye die before he could address these issues???? Couldn't he at least mention his concerns regarding DHHL if he was even aware of these issues while serving Hawaii in these governmental roles.
on May 8,2013 | 04:56AM
Mythman wrote:
Sen Schatz wasn't on the Hawaiian Affairs committee in the legislature. I can't explain why or what he did or did not do when he was Lt. gov.....
on May 8,2013 | 05:23AM
false wrote:
He came to work in the morning had coffee, juice etc., went to the men's room, went to lunch, went to men's room again, went home.
on May 8,2013 | 08:46AM
Skyler wrote:
Haha, classic. One & Done Schatz.
on May 8,2013 | 11:15AM
OldEnoughToRemember wrote:
Have you ever seen anyone who went against Inouye go on to anything politically significant?
on May 8,2013 | 09:10AM
bender wrote:
Except this is a Hawaii problem, not a DC problem. DHHL definitely stands for Department of Hawaiian Home Lands with emphasis on Hawaiian. And it is a state administered program. Brian Schatz did NOT have to wait until he was in DC to address this problem. He had plenty of opportunity while in positions of power here in Hawaii. Just a PR grab.
on May 8,2013 | 05:45AM
Wazdat wrote:
YUP and so did hanabada when she was here. SO WHAT
on May 8,2013 | 07:26AM
postmanx wrote:
Correction Sen Schatz had to wait until the Star Advertiser blew the cover on the whole game. Wish the press had the same courage when it comes to the most messed up department ever, aka the Bureau of Conveyances.
on May 8,2013 | 04:47PM
keei wrote:
Senator Schatz, when you were Lt. Governor of the State of Hawaii what did you do to help the DHHL with these long standing issues? Or are you one of the many throughout history using Hawaiian causes to further your own goals to remain in the US Senate.
on May 8,2013 | 04:29AM
false wrote:
Nothing. The problem is political connections create inordinate access. Hui for insiders. Schatz is the new ring leader in one circle. Show they will do for show. Make a sacrificial lamb and then bury the problem. We will die off soon and the program too. Then no more Aloha.
on May 8,2013 | 04:38AM
Mythman wrote:
"Using Hawaiian causes"? are you referring to the biggest user of all time, a certain Senator who has walked on to his eternal reward?
on May 8,2013 | 04:42AM
Mythman wrote:
Does Hawaii have a Future? How can it have a future if its original people are not joining the rest of us in it? Come on, now. The native Hawaiian has been profoundly mistreated and who would deny this? Ask your self who was in charge over the past 50 years. A majority population that holds down a weak minority group is not the group I want leading Hawaii into the Future, where all groups prosper, instead of one group being treated like, well you know the rest of the story. Who did it and why should lead us to seek a new day for EVERYONE this time around.........
on May 8,2013 | 04:49AM
palani wrote:
"The issue of federal oversight of DHHL historically has been unclear, some say."

Although Senator Schatz says he has talked to Governor Abercrombie, inviting Federal mismanagement into an already poorly functioning DHHL is probably unwise. I guess it provides some cover for the Governor's failures, however.

on May 8,2013 | 05:15AM
Allenk wrote:
I think the issue is whether the problem can be solved locally (state) without federal intervention. If it's a matter of qualifying individuals and then revoking violators can't it be done on a local level? Of course, there are so many behind the scenes ties and relationships that it will get very sticky and controversial. Politicians rather not stir up the pot too much for fear of a backlash from insiders - insiders who later can become your supporters.
on May 8,2013 | 07:51AM
bender wrote:
Shouldn't the governor be taking the lead on this or is Schatz saying his former boss can't handle it so he wants to bring in the feds.
on May 8,2013 | 05:47AM
boshio wrote:
Our honorable Governor is more concern with his reelection next year. Too much risk to take action. I regret voting for Abercrombie and hope that he is only a one term Governor.
on May 8,2013 | 06:50AM
Nana1 wrote:
I'll second that !!
on May 8,2013 | 10:50AM
allie wrote:
agree..he does not want to alienate the Hawaiian mafia out here
on May 8,2013 | 02:04PM
soundofreason wrote:
The feds ALWAYS get brought in when things need to get done right when our local people need hand holding.
on May 8,2013 | 06:56AM
hilocal wrote:
bender, didn't Gov. Neil appoint Solomon to her senate seat and Masagatani as DHHL Director? And if Ray Soon, former DHHL director, is his advisor, I'd say Schatz realizes Neil can't handle it.
on May 8,2013 | 07:36AM
LittleEarl_01 wrote:
HUM! I can't help but wonder why DHHL chairperson Jobie Masa­ga­tani declined comment for this story???? One might say that DHHL Deputy Director Darrell Young has gotten caught with his pants down around his knees.
on May 8,2013 | 05:50AM
Pocho wrote:
who knows? maybe she's got some skeletons in her closet
on May 8,2013 | 06:39AM
Imagen wrote:
Everyone has skeletons in their closet. The question remains, how far back and deep are you willing to look?
on May 9,2013 | 01:21PM
keei wrote:
Check the DHHL site, just did now and Masagatani did respond. Didn't see it in the newspaper, maybe they will print it tomorrow. If not why not??
on May 8,2013 | 03:36PM
mcc wrote:
This corupption has been gone on for years.
on May 8,2013 | 06:47AM
soundofreason wrote:
""The rules, procedures and processes of (DHHL) must be transparent, accountable, understandable and consistent.">>> I don't know. I think we've all become comfortable with dense, UNaccountable, incomprehensible, and versatile. Or it wouldn't have gone on this long. OH! and take Rob Perez out for a drink..........on my tax dollars....PLEASE!
on May 8,2013 | 06:53AM
chief wrote:
At least Schatz stepped up and did something! What have Abercrombie, Hirono and Hanabusa done - nothing!
on May 8,2013 | 06:56AM
Imagen wrote:
on May 9,2013 | 01:21PM
McCully wrote:
It's who you know to get Hawaiian Home Lands at a cheap price. I bet a lot of people would like to get prime land at under a $1.00.
on May 8,2013 | 07:28AM
Maneki_Neko wrote:
...met with assistant secretary for policy, management and budget at the Department of the Interior...This is, as we say, Big F Deal. A meeting with an assistant secretary. Wow. HSo high up on the political food chain that he probably had to make an appointment to see her.

And that is what the Star Ad calls "Taking Action."

on May 8,2013 | 07:59AM
Bully wrote:
Schatz and Abercrombie is trying to make DHHL someone elses problem. So lame.
on May 8,2013 | 08:07AM
hawaiinui wrote:
Abercombie and staffers are well aware of the goings on at the DHHL. Why do you think that this chronic mismanagement wasn't a priority on his horizon during the "campain" season. Check out the contributors to his coffers and his appointments and some present lease holders...a lot have ties to the DHHL and profit from this "turning a blind eye". Schatz on the other hand had a time at bat and struck out. To produce a lame effort "for the Hawaiianans" now is purely political and in the long run will die a extended quiet death....as it has for decades. According to a piece in the Hawaii Free Press, Hanabusa has ties to profiteering from DHHL lease also. Everybody is spoiled goods...through them out already...starting within the ranks of the DHHL Directors, namely Chinn.
on May 8,2013 | 09:45AM
false wrote:
Sheez Brian, don't tell me you were never aware of these problems. Its been going on for years. What an opportunist. Grandstanding for the Hawaiian community.
on May 8,2013 | 08:38AM
wiliki wrote:
The fed's really don't seem to have oversight at this point. They can assist DHHL and applicants but they don't have full oversight if they can't remove DHHL trustees for misconduct.

This will be a challenge for DHHL Chair Masagatani-- to remove trustees for cause and fix cases of misconduct and neglect. Lingle couldn't do it. Let's hope that Abercrombie will succeed. In the long run, the Hawaiian community will support his re-election if he and Masagatani can make needed changes to DHHL.

on May 8,2013 | 08:44AM
nonpolitic wrote:
It's sad that Mr. Schatz seems to be disingenuously using the recent Star-Advertiser series on DHHL's problems as a means to drum up notoriety on an issue that has been clearly a state problem since the Admission Act was ratified by the people of Hawaii. While the federal government does retain some authority regarding the "overall" adminstration of the Hawaiian Homes Commission Act via article XII, section 3 of Hawaii's constitution, sections 4, 5 and 7 of the Admission Act clearly indicate that Congress intended that the state have primary jurisdiction over the day to day operations of DHHL. To further my point, take a look at how many times in the past 90 years that Congress has actually taken the time to validate or invalidate any changes to the HHCA made by the state legislature. None come to my recollection over the past 30 years or so. Moreover, the federal 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled back in 1978 that the state was solely responsible for the administration of the HHL program. So, either Mr. Schatz is either uneducated when it comes to state vs. federal responsibilities, particularly regarding Hawaiian issues, or he is using this issue as an opportunity to garner unwarranted status in the eyes of Hawaii voters in preparation for an impending election. I'll let my fellow readers make up their own minds.
on May 8,2013 | 09:06AM
hawaiinui wrote:
Pure and simple...it's all about the "ME" thing...and nothing else. Good piece, nonpolitic.
on May 8,2013 | 09:46AM
allie wrote:
state is too corrupt to administer itself hon
on May 8,2013 | 02:05PM
nonpolitic wrote:
Then what do you suggest Allie? Ironically, Mr. Schatz was in a better position to effectuate any sort of meaningful change at the DHHL when he was serving as the Lieutenant Governor, since according to him and Governor Abercrombie, he fully participated in the decision-making of the executive branch's actions. It seems that Mr. Schatz is a bit "late to the party" on this issue and has weighed in only when it serves the purpose of garnering votes.
on May 8,2013 | 03:36PM
nonpolitic wrote:
By the way Allie, by your saying that the state is too corrupt, you are, by extension, stating that Mr. Schatz is too corrupt as well; being that he was the Lieutenant Governor while these abuses were occurring.
on May 8,2013 | 03:59PM
nonpolitic wrote:
Also, I noticed that Ms. Hirono and Ms. Hanabusa were also interviewed and has something to say on the matter. Was Ms. Gabbard interviewed as well? It seems that she is always noticeably absent when it comes opining on actual policy matters. That's pretty disappointing.
on May 8,2013 | 09:26AM
MalamaKaAina wrote:
A pretty face.
on May 8,2013 | 01:24PM
Imagen wrote:
Eye candy; nothing more.
on May 9,2013 | 01:23PM
iwanaknow wrote:
What is our current Lt. Gov doing about this?........does he sit on Homesteading lands on Maui due to his wife?
on May 8,2013 | 10:09AM
silvangold wrote:
yeah, I'd sure like to know the answer to that question .....:iwanaknow' .... too!
on May 8,2013 | 11:40AM
Annabella46 wrote:
Instate a Grand Jury to investigate the allegations of misconduct by the Dept. of Hawaiian Homelands. Interview all parties under oath and submit a full report with recommended actions. ACTIONS.
on May 8,2013 | 10:38AM
kukaikid wrote:
LOL as if they were already taking actions on this. more like scrambling to address the public while they inform their colleagues to end the blatant kickbacking and look for more low key ways to keep hawaii in the same gridlock of incompetence.
on May 8,2013 | 11:20AM
Ripoff wrote:
Not so much Malama, Malama..
on May 8,2013 | 12:06PM
Kaleo744 wrote:
Guess what Schatz just got the Hawaiian votes
on May 8,2013 | 02:00PM
Leinanij wrote:
No. Hawaiians can see this for what it is - a chance to be in the news and look like he's doing something. If he really wanted to do something he would pick up the phone and call his bud Neil to clean house and fill the DHHL with people who can do the job they were hired to do.
on May 8,2013 | 03:31PM
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