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Regents in the dark on political polling

Thursday, August 5, 2004

Documents show no clear cause for firing What it takes to be fired “for cause” Audit reveals questionable expense claims

By Rick Daysog

[email protected]

University of Hawaii regents and UH Foundation board members were apparently unaware until recently that marketing studies ordered by then-UH President Evan Dobelle contained extensive polling on more than a dozen local political figures.

The Star-Bulletin reported last month that 2001 and 2003 polls conducted for the university by Cambridge, Mass.-based Opinion Dynamics Corp. asked respondents to rate their opinions on local politicians such as Gov. Linda Lingle, former Gov. Ben Cayetano and Hawaii’s congressional delegation. However, documents provided by the university yesterday show that the Board of Regents was not told that the polls contained political questions.

A summary of a September 2001 poll provided to the regents and the foundation by Opinion Dynamics several years ago does not mention the political questions. The study provides findings for the four questions asked by poll takers then skips to the 26th question.

The board recently obtained a more complete copy of the 2001 study along with scripts for the pollsters that indicate the Opinion Dynamics omitted the 16 questions, which asked respondents provide favorable ratings for more than a dozen local politicians. Officials with Opinion Dynamics could not be reached for comment last night.

The poll also asked residents to rate their opinion of Dobelle. Dobelle has denied any political motives behind the polls. But the regents’ accounting firm Deloitte & Touche has questioned the use of the nonprofit UH Foundation money for the project. Auditors also questioned why Dobelle insisted in contract language that the Opinion Dynamics’ polls cost “no more than $90,000.” University policy calls for all contracts of more than $100,000 to be approved by the regents. Opinion Dynamics’ contract is with the UH, but the UH Foundation paid for the study.

Rick Fried, Dobelle’s attorney, said the polls are an attempt to gauge public attitudes on “the leaders of Hawaii” and not specifically about elected officials. He said the study also sought the public’s input on other community leaders such as UH football coach June Jones and First Hawaiian Bank Chief Executive Officer Walter Dods and Polynesian Voyaging Society navigator Nainoa Thompson.

Dobelle previously told the Star-Bulletin that the polls were for the benefit of the university and were going to be used to identify key leaders for the upcoming Centennial Campaign in 2007 to raise $200 million for UH to celebrate its 100th anniversary.