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.
In mid-2017 I wrote a series of columns in which I hoped to provide some thought leadership proposals regarding OHA’s governance model and the need for a fundamental restructuring. Here I am compiling those columns which proposed (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.
OHA’s governance model is antiquated in its management structure and in its approach to policy making.
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.
These seven recommendations for Trustees to consider would enable us to hit the re-set button on the way we manage beneficiary business and maximize our proficiency in carrying out our fiduciary duty in ways that clearly allow us to determine, what is it we’re supposed to be doing, what’s working, what’s not, and how do we fix the things that aren’t working.
Constitutional Intent and OHA’s Vision and Mission
The first two initiatives I call for are (1) re-visiting the constitutional intent of OHA and (2) retrofitting OHA’s overarching vision and mission statements. A review of the constitutional language that created OHA in 1978 and the legislatively constructed language of Chapter 10 of the Hawai‘i Revised Statutes that spell out OHA’s authority loom important, not so much for what they say, but for what they do not say.
For the past 37 years since 1980, most OHA Trustees have seemed to presume that the notions of political sovereignty, political self-determination, and the politics of nation-building were fundamental to the purpose for which OHA was created. A considerable amount of resources has been committed to nation building since OHA’s inception. Yet nowhere in either the constitutional language that created OHA, or in Chapter 10 of the Hawai’i Revised Statutes, is political sovereignty mentioned.
Nowhere in either the constitutional language that created OHA, or in Chapter 10 of the Hawai’i Revised Statutes, is political sovereignty mentioned.
To be clear, my intention is not to invalidate OHA’s pursuit of self-determination or nation building but simply to suggest that trustees self-reflect on our priorities based on the language of the constitution and Chapter 10.
What I hope might emerge from my call for OHA to revisit, clarify, and perhaps amend its currently stated vision and mission is that the process will yield a realignment of OHA’s strategic plan with an eye toward a restructuring of OHA’s governing model.
Personally, I continue to support political self-determination. But, OHA need not continue to be the elephant in the living room on this political objective.
For those who pursue federal recognition (which does not preclude seeking independence) there is a new center of gravity that emerged from the ‘Aha process last year that yielded a constitution that needs to be ratified by some form of an electorate free of OHA influence.
For those who seek independence, and there are at least a dozen organizations competing for the high ground on that political objective, there is little agreement on how best to unify those of that persuasion in order to bring clarity on what a “restored” Hawaiian nation might look like. But I wish them well.
Then there is a third alternative, with a significant percentage of Hawaiians in favor of the status quo. Some are essentially happy with their way of life. Others hope to protect millions of dollars in federal entitlement programs now in play that may be threatened by political re-designation of Hawaiians as aboriginal peoples of Hawai‘i.
All of the above is subjective and I stand to be corrected, criticized, or enlightened except for my final observation. Everything on the table for discussion is rooted in the language of section 5-f of the Hawai‘i Admissions Act that spells out that the trust responsibility of the state of Hawai‘i is to engage in the active pursuit of the “betterment of conditions of Native Hawaiians.” OHA owes its existence to this provision and has an obligation to clearly live up to its promise.
Revising the Strategic Plan
It is my observation that OHA is mired in a structural time warp of our own evolution, clinging to outdated policies and practices and administrative management schemes that were born in the 80’s. To put our governance history in nautical terms, while there have been crew changes and new sails raised from time to time, the ship is still heading in the same direction trying to outrun the following storm.
Some readers may take exception to this analysis as overly dramatic. I readily acknowledge that my expressed opinion here is based on the finger in the wind test and absent conclusive research based on any public opinion poll. Nevertheless I pursue my sense of urgency with conviction.
Here I propose a third objective: to re-write the OHA Strategic Plan and its currently stated overarching objectives of ‘Aina (Land), Culture, Economic Self-sufficiency, Education, Governance, and Health.
The state constitutional provision that provided a basis for the creation of OHA is floated on the language of the Hawai’i Admissions Act that puts forth a simply purposed trust responsibility, “…for the betterment of conditions of native Hawaiians.”
We need to qualify and quantify what that means and then frame that purpose in a set of quality of life initiatives mounted on a bed of quality of life indicators that directly impact the day to day lives of native Hawaiians.
I propose that OHA amend its Strategic Plan and reconsider how the strategic objectives are stated. For instance, it’s not enough to simply create a broad objective titled health and leave the outcomes of what we mean by health up to OHA administration. However, if the objective is stated as Access to Health Care, OHA is now more clearly guided by an objective that is success-measureable. Some may argue that wordsmithing an objective in a way that simultaneously states the expected outcome is too narrow and would preclude other aspects of health care besides access. I say OHA cannot be all things to all people and, in the case of health care, access is the single most important quality of life game-changer for Hawaiians. Similarly, Economic Self-sufficiency needs to be specific—access to housing and jobs.
I urge that OHA restructure its Strategic Plan to be based on a quality of life index that gives real meaning to the words self-determination.
There is nothing more strategic to Hawaiians than day to day quality of life. I urge that OHA restructure its Strategic Plan to be based on a quality of life index that gives real meaning to the words self-determination – for every Hawaiian to have a fair opportunity to self-determine their own destiny.
So, what of the big picture pursuits that are essentially political challenges that are mostly mired in exhaustive (and expensive) tugs-of-war like nation building, public policy, native rights, and so forth? Are these to be abandoned by OHA? Of course not, but, if up to me, they would be ensconced on the edges of the OHA resource allocation framework which would have at its core the quality of life index.
OHA needs to ramp up its communications strategy as vital to carrying out its fiduciary duty to OHA beneficiaries especially (1) in the interest of transparency and (2) with a much heightened sense of awareness of the multiplicity of target audiences OHA needs to reach in order to establish a 360-degree sweep to include all of Hawai‘i in carrying a message of how and why OHA is relevant and important to every citizen and institution.
OHA does not exist in a vacuum. But its communications strategy tends to be incestuous—aimed to Hawaiians only—and diminishes the importance of seriously reaching out to the broader Hawai‘i community in building bridges of understanding.
No matter the political, cultural, or quality of life ambition Hawaiians may conjure up, it’s a road that cannot be traveled without the support of all of Hawai‘i.
Wherever the road may lead with respect to Hawaiians’ vision of a future, it is not a road we can travel alone. No matter the political, cultural, or quality of life ambition Hawaiians may conjure up, it’s a road that cannot be traveled without the support of all of Hawai‘i.
The communications revolution of the late 20th and early 21st century has collapsed the world so that, like it or not, no society is an island. Most important about an inclusive communications model for OHA is that we should be seeking help, support, and in some cases even guidance from the broader community.
The existing communications model OHA has put into play over the years has and does put out a lot of information. That’s a good first step. But formatting information and mounting it on OHA institutional platforms is not necessarily communicating. Information is good only if it is presented in ways that make it interesting and turns it into knowledge.
OHA is perched on a $550 million dollar pedestal with an annual operating budget of some $45 million dollars with 175 employees. We are not even close to acting like a $550 million dollar institution. And I wish to be clear that I am not calling out OHA staff for fault. They, like the Trustees, are victims of the governance model. As much as OHA does not like to think of itself as a state agency, with respect to communications, we act like a state agency. I leave it to the reader to figure out what I mean by that.
OHA leaves all communications strategy and programming to administration. Trustees have no staffing capacity or budget to execute a Trustee-level communications program. One tell-tale sign of our lack of sophistication is Trustees have no official spokesperson to handle crisis communications with the media. Trustees do not have a communications strategist who is pro-active in anticipatory communications strategy.
It seems a no-brainer that there should be a Trustee-level communications initiative that would establish a Trustee speaker’s bureau to arrange for speaking opportunities that, at the least, would have Trustees delivering a basic “What Does OHA Do” presentation to both beneficiary groups and community organizations.
Finally, there is little reach out at both the Trustee and administrative level to Bishop Street. Nor is there any year-round strategic relationship building with the policy-making bodies of the state and counties.
OHA’s mission statement is “To Raise A Beloved Nation.” What are we waiting for? All we have to do is act like a nation beginning with communicating like one.
The Urgent Need to Restructure OHA
My intent in these columns is more of a thought leadership sense of urgency wake-up call appeal to my fellow Trustees. It is not a get in the weeds dictation brimming with specifics as to how it should all occur. But it is my attempt to specifically carve out a road map toward a total restructuring of the organization.
It’s important to note that last year the Board already started on the difficult task of overhauling a fundamental document of our governance model when Trustee Hulu Lindsey and I were appointed as an ad-hoc committee that completed a considerable amount of work on overhauling OHA policies that govern our operations.
There was also another initiative triggered last year that had another ad-hoc committee make recommendations on what would constitute the ideal characteristics and skill sets required whenever the next opportunity occurred to recruit a new CEO. Like Trustees, who are subject to being elected to office thus creating a turnover at the trustee level, the OHA CEO position might also be subject to the same opportunity to allow for new ideas and perspectives every so many years. Both initiatives still await full discussion by the Board.
An important new condition in the making that I believe will support my call for restructuring is the expectation that the current audit of OHA operations by the State Auditor will provide an in-depth analysis of both Trustee and administrative performance based on the existing governance model and the policies that frame the model. I anticipate that the audit findings will support the need for revising our operations.
The one condition that I hope a restructured OHA would address is the sometimes contentious relationship between the Board and administration
The one condition that I hope a restructured OHA would address is the sometimes contentious relationship between the Board and administration, where lines of authority are blurred and driven by outdated policies and a governance model that divides more than unites. No set of quick fixes will resolve the continuing contentiousness to which both Trustees and administrators fall victim.
My last comment beats the same drum that OHA, in its rebirth, should vigorously pursue further empowering existing community organizations that are already working on just about every single challenge, from health care to public policy, and leverage our resources by maximizing partnership opportunities so the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Let us share the power and the resources.
Hawai‘i loa kū like kākou. All Hawai‘i stand together.