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Regents say lies were basis for firing

Documents reveal dissatisfaction over Dobelle's fund use and leadership skills

Docs show Dobelle job hunting Finds diverted from studies

By Craig Gima

cgima@starbulletin.com

Minutes of meetings and documents that led to the firing of University of Hawaii President Evan Dobelle show regents believed Dobelle misused a UH Foundation fund and lost the trust of the board because of his "lies."

In a discussion in executive session before the vote to fire Dobelle on June 15, regents expressed their reasons why the then-president should be terminated, including allegedly using UH Foundation money for personal benefit, and a lack of leadership, follow-up and credibility.

University of Hawaii

Regent Walter Nunokawa said the board should have taken action last year, but "the Lingle appointees wanted to have a chance to work with the president and see if they could do better than we did with him."

Board Vice Chairwoman Kitty Lagareta, who was appointed to the board last year by Gov. Linda Lingle, said she wanted to give Dobelle a chance. But, according to the minutes' summary of her comments, "the bottom line for her is that the president is a liar -- a habitual liar, and unfortunately a very credible liar."

Dobelle was picking up his son from music camp on the mainland and was unavailable for comment yesterday. His attorney Rick Fried said what happened between the board and Dobelle was the result of misunderstanding based on a lack of communication.

For example, Fried said Dobelle was never told by the regents that they thought he had lied to them.

When the board's attorneys met with Fried, they were able to work out the misunderstandings and come to a solution that was in the best interest of the university.

The important thing to remember, Fried said, was that as a result of the information exchanged during the mediation, "they resolved their differences with no finding of wrongdoing, and they rescinded their decision to terminate him for cause."

"More thoughtful people may see weapons of mass destruction or, more aptly, weapons of self-destruction" in the minutes and documents, regents' attorney Bill McCorriston said.

The minutes and documents released yesterday reveal the board's reasons for dismissing Dobelle and show alleged misuse of the protocol fund, but there is nothing that explicitly states why the board fired Dobelle "for cause" on June 15.

Those discussions were apparently held in consultation with the board's attorneys and were kept secret because of attorney-client privilege.

As part of a mediated settlement, Dobelle waived his privacy right to the minutes and documents surrounding his dismissal, but both sides agreed to not to reveal discussions and work product surrounding the mediation.

Dobelle was fired "for cause" on June 15 after a 12-hour closed-door meeting, effectively denying Dobelle a $2.26 million severance package.

On July 29 the board and Dobelle reached a mediated settlement to avoid going to court over the firing. The regents took back the "for cause" firing, and Dobelle resigned. The university paid Dobelle about $1 million, paid $290,000 in Dobelle's attorney's fees, continued payments on a $2 million insurance policy and agreed to keep him on for two years as a researcher at a salary of $150,000 a year plus negotiated pay raises.

Yesterday's release of the minutes and thousands of pages of supporting documents reveal the regents' concern with an audit report of Dobelle's spending from his $200,000-a-year protocol fund at the foundation, which is used for fund raising and to support the university.

The audit notes that there is more than $72,000 in undocumented expenses during the three years Dobelle had access to the protocol fund.

An additional $26,000 in personal expenses was reclassified as business expenses and reimbursed, but sometimes not for two years or more later.

According to the minutes, Deloitte & Touche auditor Gary Nishikawa told the regents that there was a "reimbursement frenzy" when the fund was audited. But he said it was not within the auditor's scope of services to render an opinion or determine whether there was an intent to defraud the university.

Dobelle has said there was sloppy bookkeeping with the fund but no intent to take money.

Some of the concerns raised in the documents have come up before, such as Dobelle's use of university and protocol fund money on mainland friends.

In last year's evaluation of Dobelle, the board cited his "cronyism" in his spending as an area of concern.

For example, Dobelle spent more than $2,000 to fly the sheriff of Pittsfield, Mass., to Hawaii in October 2001 and put him up at the Halekulani Hotel to recruit him for a position to head his P-20 initiative to work with public schools to improve education from preschool through college.

He also spent more than $2,000 to bring Trinity University's squash coach to UH to recruit him for a position in the athletic department. The coach was also put up at the Halekulani.

Fried said the sheriff had extensive experience in education and working with underprivileged kids and may have been willing to work for half-salary because he was retiring.

The squash coach recruited heavily in Asia, had fund-raising contacts and could have set up a world-class squash program in Hawaii, Fried said.

Regents also discussed a trip taken by Dobelle's wife, Kit, to a conference at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst at a cost of $4,000.

The conference was also described as a "reunion-like event" by a UMass-Amherst official, according to the regents' report, and honored the former dean of the school from where Dobelle and his wife graduated.

Fried said the conference was "absolutely not" a reunion. He said the information from the sessions helped with Dobelle's P-20 education initiative.

Lagareta also questioned two Opinion Dynamics polls paid for with $90,000 in foundation money.

The polls were taken in the fall of 2001 and early 2003.

The polls asked marketing questions about the university and, in what mainland university marketing specialists say is unusual, also asked about favorable and unfavorable impressions of elected officials.

Pollsters say those questions can be useful in marketing, but they can also be used for political purposes.

E-mails between Kit Dobelle and John Gorman, president of Opinion Dynamics, show that Dobelle called Gorman to ask him to change the date of the poll to February 2004 instead of 2003 and to have "the sensitive information removed."

The audit report of the protocol fund cited the difficulty auditors were having getting a copy of the poll.

In an earlier interview, Dobelle said the polls were provided as soon as the auditors asked about it, and denied there was a political reason for the questions.

Fried said the "sensitive information" on the favorable/unfavorable questions was not mentioned in the poll report because the results might be embarrassing to some of the elected officials.

The minutes also go into why the regents made a public announcement of Dobelle's firing for cause on June 15.

After consulting with their attorneys, the regents went back into a personnel discussion at 4:33 p.m. and discussed whether to fire Dobelle.

Board Chairwoman Patricia Lee said once the board determined there was cause, they had a fiduciary and governance responsibility to remove him from the position immediately and secure his office and files so documents relating to the cause would not be removed or destroyed.

The minutes indicate several attempts were made throughout the day to reach Dobelle through his chief of staff, Sam Callejo, and executive assistant, Kristen Blanchfield, and Dobelle did not return the calls.

At 6:50 p.m. Hawaii time, or 11:50 p.m. Central Daylight Time, the night manager of the Park Hyatt Hotel in Chicago went up to Dobelle's room and gave the message to Kit Dobelle to call the university.

The night manager told the regents that a male voice could also be heard in the room, which she assumed was Dobelle's.

Dobelle has said he was in Ann Arbor, Mich., with his son on a long-planned college trip and was not reachable on June 15.

He said Kit Dobelle was awakened by the manager and not told why she had to return the call.

Fried dismissed the story as "good gossip, but he (Dobelle) was at a movie with Harry."

In an earlier discussion, Lee said she favored a graceful termination or resignation but that Dobelle had stated publicly that "we can't fire him" and that the board will have to "buy him out."

WHAT THE REGENTS SAID ABOUT DOBELLE

The minutes of the UH Board of Regents' June 15 meeting detail what each regent present said about firing Evan Dobelle:

Myron Yamasato: No solid support from any stakeholder group.

James Haynes: Evan has a combative style, and it isn't possible to resuscitate the relationship.

Charles Kawakami: You cannot trust him, so it is really impossible to work with him.

Alvin Tanaka: Given all the lies, threats and problems with money, regent Tanaka said personally he would not stay on the board if President Dobelle continued.

Trent Kakuda: Does not think there is any possible way to work with someone who lies and is not working in the best interests of the university.

Byron Bender: The president is mostly talk and does not seem to have the leadership skills to actually get things done effectively.

Walter Nunokawa: Board has not seen a strategic plan from the administration or any fund-raising progress by the president.

Jane Tatibouet: There is too much money being mismanaged and misused for his personal benefit rather than for the entire university.

Kitty Lagareta: President Dobelle ... seemed to make all decisions based on what will make Evan look good.

Patricia Lee: If the public knew what the board knows and if these things could be brought to light, the public would be outraged.

KEY ISSUES IN THE FIRING OF UH PRESIDENT EVAN DOBELLE

Problem areas related to the Board of Regents' June 15 firing of University of Hawaii President Evan Dobelle, according to documents released yesterday and cited by UH sources:

>> An audit report that shows $72,000 in undocumented expenses from Dobelle's protocol fund managed by the UH Foundation.

>> Use of about $7,000 from a restricted donation for a video showing Dobelle receiving a Salesman of the Year award from Sales and Marketing Executives of Hawaii.

>> Use of university funds for flights to the mainland to interview for positions at other institutions.

>> Dobelle, a former mayor of Pittsfield, Mass., flew the sheriff of Pittsfield to Hawaii and put him up in a Waikiki hotel at university expense. Dobelle told the regents he was recruiting the sheriff to work on an educational program, but administrators of the program said they never heard of him.

>> Dobelle also used university funds for air fare and hotel expenses for the men's squash coach at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., where Dobelle formerly was president, saying he was recruiting the coach, even though UH does not have a squash program.

>> Cost overruns for renovation of College Hill, the university president's residence.

>> A $4,000 trip taken by Dobelle's wife, Kit, to a conference in Massachusetts at her college alma mater.