Rowena Akana bullied her way to violating law, OHA employees say
Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Rowena Akana intimidated, harassed and threatened OHA staff members while pushing the envelope in the use of her trustee allowance, according to current and former OHA employees.
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Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee Rowena Akana intimidated, harassed and threatened OHA staff members while pushing the envelope in the use of her trustee
allowance, according to
current and former OHA
The employees testified Monday during the first day of a state Ethics Commission contested case hearing accusing Akana of abusing her allowance, among other things.
“There was a pattern of trying to get away with questionable spending when a prudent person wouldn’t,” former OHA Chief Financial Officer Hawley Iona told the five-member commission in Honolulu.
Akana faces a fine of at least $50,000 after being named in a 50-count violation of the Hawaii State
Ethics Code, including infractions of the state’s Gifts Law, Gifts Reporting Law and Fair Treatment Law.
The charges accuse Akana of accepting a $72,000 cash gift to help pay for legal fees and for using her trustee
allowance to buy home
cable television services, an Apple iTunes gift card and dozens of other disallowed expenditures.
“Akana would harass, threaten and retaliate against OHA staff who questioned her spending,” Daniel Gluck, Ethics Commission executive director, said in his opening argument.
“The evidence will show dozens of instances in which respondent Akana used her position to buy unwarranted benefits to her and others,” he said.
OHA Controller Gloria Li spent much of the morning verifying the details of disallowed expenditures by Akana.
Li also testified that communication with Akana was “pretty difficult” when discussing her spending limits, and there were instances when staff members felt
Iona, the former CFO, said most of her interactions with Akana were “very accusatory.”
“It was not uncommon for trustee Akana to question my skills and abilities in an open board meeting,” she said.
At one point Akana sent
a memo to Iona, CEO Kamana‘opono Crabbe and two other OHA leaders, threatening to file a lawsuit for not providing information she was asking for. The memo said they would be named as individuals in the suit.
Iona resigned after the 2016 election when it appeared Akana would ascend to the OHA chairmanship. That’s what happened, but her tenure lasted only a few months until her support among board members
During his opening statement, Akana’s attorney,
Stephen Tannenbaum, conceded that his client can be aggressive.
“Trustee Akana, as you heard, can be somewhat of
a bulldog. She can be very, very strongly spoken and outspoken. And that is why she has been re-elected, because her constituents believe she stands up for their rights in a manner that maybe other people don’t,” he said.
Tannenbaum said Akana has always used her tenacity to work for the betterment of the conditions of Native Hawaiians.
“Every single expenditure, that was what was in
Akana’s mind,” he said. “It might look bad on paper, but there’s always a perfect rational explanation when you go beyond just a receipt.”
The Ethics Commission hearing — the first contested case since 2012 and only the third in nearly 35 years — will continue Wednesday at
9 a.m. The hearing is
expected to last at least through the end of the week.
Attempts by Akana to block or delay the hearing last week were unsuccessful in court. Separate Oahu Circuit Court judges rejected requests for a temporary
restraining order and an agency appeal.