OHA, its Trustees, and Administration are struggling to navigate an unfriendly sea of public opinion, a divided beneficiary community, low ratings from important state legislators, and a cautiously uneasy relationship with the state administration. Aspects of OHA’s performance are being subjected to a state audit and at least one state inquiry, and OHA itself is in the process of initiating its own audit with the expectation that it will yield a roadmap for important course corrections.
This column is the first in a series in which I hope to provide some thought leadership proposals regarding OHA’s governance model and the need for a fundamental restructuring by (1) re-visiting the constitutional intent of OHA, (2) re-interpreting the overarching mission, (3) re-writing the strategic plan, (4) ramping up OHA’s communications with beneficiaries to produce maximum transparency, (5) developing a far more sophisticated set of objectives in building strategic relationships with the broader Hawai‘i community, especially its most important institutions that impact Hawai’i’s economic growth and public policy development, (6) establishing a quality of life index that clearly spells out what it means to “better the conditions of Hawaiians and native Hawaiians,” and (7) constructing our budget based on a set of pre-determined measures of success to accurately measure performance.
In my opinion, OHA’s governance model is antiquated in its management structure and in its approach to policy making, and clearly suffers from fuzzy lines of authority between Trustees and OHA Administration. I stop short of making presumptuous statements of blame and will simply observe that since OHA’s inception 37 years ago the ground has shifted under our feet and we have not been able to make timely adjustments to our governing model which has finally caught up with us. OHA’s duality of having to function as both a state agency and a private trust remains a difficult challenge to properly structure the governance model to accommodate two sets of sometimes conflicting objectives.
For this column, I start by actually continuing to pursue an initiative that is already underway and perhaps ahead of its time. The fundamental governing principles of any elected body are articulated by its policies. These policies become doctrine which serves as the primary guiding instrument that creates the basis for developing a strategic plan which establishes guidelines that dictate how resources are to be allocated. Last year, then chair Robert Lindsey appointed me Chair of an Ad Hoc Committee on Policies; Trustee Hulu Lindsey joined me as Vice Chair. It had been years since the Board had attempted any major scrub-down of OHA policies. Trustee Lindsey and I consulted with legal and financial experts to develop 20 new policies or policy amendments. A report was rendered to Chair Lindsey’s office but at that point the 2016 elections occurred, and following the election, the Board had no opportunity to take up these recommendations.
Now it seems the opportunity rises again for the Board to continue its work on restructuring this fundamental overarching document that will have a profound effect on how OHA moves forward. I cannot say what the next steps will be in bringing the work product of the Ad Hoc Committee on Policies to board attention other than I fully expect we will be able to agendize it this summer.
Meanwhile, in my next column I intend to share some of the key elements of the policy recommendations as the first steps toward restructuring of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs.