Gov. Neil Abercrombie
Gov. Neil Abercrombie

BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN AND JIM DOOLEY-

“Marcy, it’s the Governor calling.”

That was the start of a 4-minute voicemail that Gov. Neil Abercrombie left University of Hawaii President MRC Greenwood on August 16 just after the University announced it had likely been tricked into sending $200,000 to a fake promoter to schedule what they thought was a Stevie Wonder concert. (Hear Audio of Governor’s August 16 call to MRC Greenwood/)

Instead, the University lost a $200,000 deposit and refunded tickets already sold. The entire debacle became known as the “Wonder Blunder.”

In the voicemail, released to the media nearly four months after it was first left for Greenwood, the governor advised the UH president on how to handle the political and public fallout from the botched concert. He suggested she take swift and immediate action or would be faced with a Senate investigation.

Abercrombie left the voicemail after Greenwood had removed UH Athletic Director Jim Donovan from his job and transferred him to another UH administrative position. According to Greenwood, legislative leaders wanted Greenwood and the UH board of regents to reinstate Donovan to the athletics post.

In the voicemail, Abercrombie urged Greenwood to arrange a special regents meeting to address the issue and to post the agenda of the meeting in time to meet state sunshine laws.

“I think you need to schedule a meeting tomorrow to get the six days, uh, because I don’t think that simply sticking it as an agenda item on Wednesday is gonna be sufficient. Among other things, uh, it might turn out that they decide to postpone, or, or, or defer, or whatever the hell else might come up to and take place.

“I don’t think that you can take that kind of a chance, I don’t think the Chancellor can. I don’t think the public will put up with it.

“So, uh, again, um, I realize that, uh, for whatever set of reasons my, uh, advice and counsel, to this point, uh, hasn’t, um, been the path taken. But I am suggesting, on behalf of the University’s interests, on behalf of your interests, and Chan… Chancellor Apple’s interests, which, in all, I’m, I’m certain you understand, and I certainly hope you do understand, is, is.. are, are the interests I would like to support and defend, as best I can.

“Uh, that you, uh, cause to be, uh, posted tomorrow. No later than tomorrow. Uh, in fact, I think if you could post it tonight, it would be an even better idea… Uh, to have a meeting, uh, on this issue…. Regardless of what happens, uh, on, on Wednesday. You should do it by Thursday.

“Yeah, uh, I reiterate to you my, uh, my uh, projection is… not… I can’t say for certain, but… um, what I told you was gonna happen, and what I thought would happen, has happened.”

“And I am, again, what I think is gonna happen, if this, if this suggestion isn’t, uh, acted on, is that, uh, by Wednesday evening or whenever that Regents meeting ends…”

“If there’s not a satisfactory, uh, and decisive conclusion to that, um, um… there will be a full fledged effort, uh, by, uh, the Legislature, uh, members of the Legislature, to bring it to a conclusion, um, themselves.”

“I don’t think they wanna do that, but they will feel compelled to do it, if, uh, if this doesn’t move forward.”

“So again, my suggestion, post a special meeting. So if you have it no later than Thursday.”

“Make sure that, that is understood, uh, as taking place. And that’s the best advice …”

M.R.C. Greenwood

Greenwood and the regents did not reinstate Donovan.

As the Governor predicted, the Senate did convene a special investigation committee to look into the failed concert as well as operational and fiscal management issues at the University.

The 5-member Senate committee, headed by Senate Vice President Donna Mercado Kim, also questioned MRC Greenwood’s subsequent decision to fire Jim Donovan as athletic director, Chancellor Tom Apple’s decision to hire Donovan as a branding expert on a 3-year contract at $211,000 a year, and the numerous outside legal and public relations experts hired by the University to address the fiasco that totaled some $1.2 million.

On September 25, during one of two Senate hearings, Greenwood told senators said that after she removed Donovan as Athletic Director in July, she received “advice” from the governor and “pressure” from the state Senate President and Speaker of the House of Representatives to put Donovan back in the job.

The committee also heard from Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s chief of staff, Bruce Coppa, who said Abercrombie exerted no pressure on Greenwood but “did ask the president to consider all the options that were out there.”

Abercrombie said later in a press release that when he met with Greenwood about Donovan, “I stated very clearly….that my sole concern was for fairness and even-handedness.”

Greenwood supported the governor’s version of events, saying that Abercrombie “didn’t tell me to do something.” Instead, she said, the governor “told me the circumstances of the political environment.”

But in September, Greenwood’s attorney, Jerry Hiatt, sent a 10-page letter to the Board of Regents demanding $2 million in damages for her departure.

The letter he wrote on Greenwood’s behalf asserted that Greenwood had been defamed and subjected to improper political pressure by Abercrombie and state legislative leaders after she removed  Donovan from office.

Greenwood said in the letter that Abercrombie warned her in a meeting in his office that she and the University would suffer personal and economic consequences if Donovan wasn’t given his job back.

In October, after the letter was leaked to Hawaii News Now, she apologized and took the letter back.

Neither the Governor nor Greenwood have commented about the dispute since Greenwood’s office released the audio and transcript of the voicemail, except to say they both have the University’s best interest at heart and have moved past the incidents.

After holding four meetings, the Board of Regents decided it was best to allow Greenwood to keep her job.

 

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