BY MALIA ZIMMERMAN – Tales of a “Wonder Blunder”, $200,000 gone missing and secretive behavior on the part of University of Hawaii officials will take center stage at the University of Hawaii Board of Regents meeting on Wednesday.
The saga goes something like this:
The University of Hawaii athletics department sent $200,000 to a promoter who promised to bring Stevie Wonder to the islands for a fundraiser, but University officials later admitted the University was scammed.
The University launched an internal investigation and called on the FBI for help, but would not comment on the situation other than to say the concert was cancelled and the ticket holders’ money would be returned.
As Jim Dooley reported July 24, “among the players in the University of Hawaii’s fundraising fiasco are: a recently bankrupted local entertainment promoter whose home is now in foreclosure; a Florida firm that only began business in February; and a commercial painting contractor with a history of bad debts.”
The fiasco quickly became known around town as the “Wonder Blunder” and on July 11, UH Athletics Department Director Jim Donovan and department official Rich Sheriff were placed on indefinite paid leaves of absence pending completion of investigations.
University of Hawaii-Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple cleared the pair of any wrongdoing a month later, bringing them back to campus on August 13.
Then Apple announced Donovan would make a “lateral” transfer from Athletics Department to a newly created marketing position where he would be paid $200,000 plus a year for yet to be determined duties.
“Mr. Donovan will have significant responsibilities in designing, creating, articulating, marketing and communicating to the community, including assisting with the evolving land grant mission of the University, as the University continues to serve and help meet the needs of Hawaii and its people…. In his new position, Chancellor Apple believes Donovan’s considerable and diverse talents will be best utilized to help UHM move forward while serving the University in another capacity. Donovan’s base salary will remain the same through the term of his current contract ending in March 2013. He will then be reassigned to a new position and will be recommended to receive a three-year appointment at a salary of $211,200 (temporarily reduced to $200,640) that will be subject to customary reviews and approvals in accordance with established policy.”
The series of stunning announcements angered students who were frustrated when school administrators ducked questions about where the disappearing funds came from (student athletic fees?), where the money went, and if the money would be returned.
Students were also unable to find out why it appeared as if Donovan was being paid off with a lucrative salary when they are worried about the cost of tuition on the rise. The local media have experienced similar black outs.
A memo from UH President MRC Greenwood sent to faculty and students on Tuesday, August 21, said “these two separate issues collided and became entangled in the public’s perceptions.”
“Personnel actions related to the future of the Athletic Department are not a result of nor derived from the investigation over the concert, and the two events should not have become so connected in the way that they have,” Greenwood said.
“Stevie Wonder Concert: We believe we were scammed. When we became aware that we may have been the victims of a fraud, we immediately reported it to law enforcement and fully cooperated with law enforcement. We also initiated our own internal investigation. The results will be presented to the Board of Regents this Wednesday. In order for the investigation to proceed freely and fully, employees closely connected with the planned concert were removed from the workplace and placed on paid leave. Because we felt it unfair to make statements before facts were available, we have declined to engage in the widespread speculation about blame and accountability.”
“UH Athletics Department: At the same time, and almost coincidentally, UH Manoa administration had determined that after 40 years of a 5-year agreement, it was time to search for a new Director of Athletics. Plans for the process and timetable for this action would have commenced regardless of the concert cancellation and ensuing investigation. The discussions regarding this personnel decision were in the early stages and not yet public, but the attention of campus leadership had already turned to the recruitment process.
Greenwood said as school started on Monday, the problems have “cast a cloud over our accomplishments” and the University administration has been “unable to publicly refute much of the inaccuracies due to employee confidentiality and other concerns.”
She promised “a full and complete discussion of the facts leading to the cancelled Athletics benefit concert, examination of the university’s subsequent actions, and our recommendations for moving forward” at Wednesday’s board meeting.
While Greenwood did not pledge the facts would be disclosed to the public, she said she would answer questions and respond to concerns after the meeting.
Greenwood maintains the University “has tried to follow a thoughtful and transparent process first with our Regents and then with the general public.”