The state Senate panel investigating the University of Hawaii’s ill-fated Stevie Wonder concert says the total cost of the debacle has topped $1.3 million.
The revelation began at the start of the second meeting of the state Senate Special Committee on Accountability this afternoon. Committee chairwoman Sen. Donna Mercado Kim began the meeting with heated questioning of Jeffrey S. Harris, attorney with the law firm Torkildson, Katz, Moore, Hetherington, Harris, which has been retained by the UH administration to help them deal with the aftermath of the failed concert.
Kim complained to Harris that the UH did not answer the panel’s query for a breakdown of the costs associated with the concert. Kim said that the panel came up with its own estimate of $1,135,200, including $75,000 to former state attorney general Mark Bennett who was also retained to help the UH.
After the last hearing the committee asked for a breakdown and total of the costs incurred in the failed Wonder concert and its aftermath.
Sen. Sam Slom labeled Harris’ reply as “disingenuous” and scolded him, saying, “everybody in the room and watching (on TV) understood” what the committee wanted.
Slom quipped, “it shows that Shakespeare was right, first we kill the lawyers.”
That discussion was followed by a drawn-out, sometimes-heated exchange between panel members and Harris on why the UH redacted names from the external investigation by Cades Schutte on the canceled concert. Harris insisted that the UH redacted names over concerns on privacy issues, while senators countered that the redactions violated state open-government laws.
Harris, clearly frustrated with the line of questioning, finally told the panel that they have the unredacted report so “why don’t you release ’em?”
Kim informed him that the panel was initially asked by the UH to keep the unredacted report confidential, so now wants to know the UH’s opinion on the legal basis for the redactions.
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 then-UH athletic director Jim 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.
Sheriff was the second witness today. Kim asked him “how many drafts (of the contract) did the attorneys make before they came up with the final draft?” Sheriff replied: “seven.”
KIm responded, “So we had seven opportunities (to cancel the concert)?”
Sheriff said he was approached about the prospect of holding a concert by local promoter Bob Peyton, who “told me as an alum and a fan of athletics that he wanted to do something good.”
Kim said Peyton was asked to appear and responded that he is hospitalized.
Sheriff also said Donovan’s reassignment in the wake of the Wonder blunder, “came as a complete surprise to me.”
“To me nobody should have been put on leave,” he said.
Sheriff was followed on the hot seat by Apple, in his first appearance before state legislators since being hired early this summer.
Apple said he first heard of the concert on July 9, “when we had contact from (Wonder’s representatives) Creative Artists Agency, more or less a cease and desist (request).”
Kim told Apple that UH President M.R.C. Greenwood informed the panel last week that the UH contacted HPD immediately after learning of the alleged fraud. But Kim said HPD has since told the panel that “there was no report made. They were never contacted. They were never in discussion with the university.”
Under questioning by Kim, Apple said,”I know the FBI was contacted; I don’t know about HPD.”
Apple insisted that the reassignment of Donovan actually saved the UH money because his new annual salary, $211,000, is lower than what peer institutions would pay, and that the position was going to be filled anyway.
Apple also said not a single person from athletics has told him that they wanted Donovan to return as athletic director.
After Apple’s testimony, the panel questioned regent vice chairmen James Lee and Carl Carlson and regent Coralie Matayoshi about the board’s involvement in the Donovan reassignment and their lack of openness to the public.
Today’s session, which follows a six-hour session on Sept. 24, began at about 1 p.m. in room 211 of the state Capitol. It is being shown live of ‘Olelo, channel 52, and streamed on the Star-Advertiser website, staradvertiser.com/uh-state-senate-hearing
Five people appeared before the committee last week in a six-hour session and former Manoa Chancellor Virginia Hinshaw, who is out of town, submitted written testimony.
Star-Advertiser reporter Mary Vorsino contributed to this report.