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Power shift on OHA board forces Hee to step down as chairman

DeSoto will probably succeed him

The Associated Press
October 10, 1997


HONOLULU -- Office of Hawaiian Affairs Trustee Clayton Hee, who has lost his majority support, announced Thursday that he's stepping down as chairman of OHA's nine-member Board of Trustees.

Trustee Frenchy DeSoto is expected to succeed Hee when the board meets Tuesday to elect a new leadership, Hee said.

DeSoto had been in Hee's five-member majority faction, but shifted her allegiance, he said.

``She has been loyal. I think she'll say there was a combination of reasons'' she changed her allegiance, Hee said.

DeSoto said the times call for strong and inclusive leadership ``that is not only willing to make bold statements, but also willing to listen, to hear, talk with Hawaiians and non-Hawaiians.''

DeSoto's vice chair is expected to be Haunani Apoliona. The other members of the new majority faction are Hannah Springer, Collette Machado and Billie Beamer.

Standing with Hee when he announced his resignation were trustees Abraham Aiona and a tearful Rowena Akana. The fourth member of Hee's now minority faction, Moses Keale, is hospitalized at The Queen's Medical Center for treatment of an infection.

Hee's supporters gathered later at Keale's bedside, where Aiona said the change in leadership will hurt the board, ``because things will not move as quickly as possible.''

Akana had harsh words for DeSoto.

``When she storms out of meetings at the Legislature, when she calls legislators names, flips the bird at constituents -- I mean, I shudder to think at where our office will be,'' Akana said.

Hee declined to answer any questions at the news conference, but in a later telephone interview confirmed that the shift in power might result from his recent decision to hire a variety of top consultants to help OHA in its negotiations with the state over ceded-land revenues and to lobby at the Legislature.

``I think this is part of it, but if you ask the five you are likely to get five different answers,'' Hee said.

He cautioned the new leadership not to depend solely on winning the ceded-land issue when it goes before the state Supreme Court, and also to pursue negotiations with the state for a settlement.

OHA's new leadership needs experts in the negotiations and it should not take the road of the Bishop Estate trustees in trying to handle such issues on their own, Hee said.

To do so, Hee said, would beach the board's fiduciary responsibility to the trust.

Hee said his now being a member of a minority faction doesn't mean he'll be quiet.

``If I think it's in the interest of the organization, I won't lay down. It's not in me,'' Hee said. ``Getting bucked off the horse, no shame.''

Hee was elected OHA chairman in 1991 and has held the post longer than any of his predecessors.

``The journey has not always been a smooth one,'' Hee said. ``The bumps I missed the first time. . .I went back and hit them the second time.''

``Regardless the journey, My profound mission to our people has not waivered,'' Hee said. ``If my style has offended people, it was due to a profound commitment to that purpose.''

Hee said the shift in power likely will mean some changes in the OHA staff, most of whom are in patronage positions.

``Those changes will be up to the new chairman,'' he said.

Hee outlined accomplishments under his tenure as chairman, including swelling the trust's assets from $19 million to $275 million, setting up two Hawaiian language immersion schools, establishing advanced degrees in Hawaiian language and literature, funding housing programs and creating an education foundation.

The highlight of his leadership came with Circuit Judge Daniel Heely's ruling in July 1996 that OHA is entitled to additional state airport revenues, opening the potential for OHA's trust assets to swell to $800 million to $1.5 billion, Hee said.

Hee said he's committed to finish out his current term as a trustee, which ends next year. He indicated he'll remain in public service, but not necessarily with OHA.

``If something comes up, I'll keep my options open,'' Hee said.

See related article: Clayton Hee Resigns as OHA chairman

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