BY JIM DOOLEY – Hawaii state senators investigating the failed University of Hawaii’s Stevie Wonder benefit concert repeatedly questioned why UH officials and attorneys have withheld information from the public.
In an exchange that at times grew heated, senators asked the University’s attorney, Jeffrey Harris, about why sections of a university report on the failed concert were removed before the document was made public.
Harris repeatedly told the committee information was removed as a “precaution” against possible invasions of privacy and to avoid interference with an FBI investigation into the now cancelled fundraising event.
Over and over again, Sen. Les Ihara, D-Kapahulu, asked Harris to elaborate on his assertion that privacy interests were protected when the names of individuals and companies involved in the concert promotion, including Stevie Wonder, were stricken from the public version of a “fact-finders” report.
Harris declined to elaborate. He challenged the committee members, led by Senate Vice President Donna Mercado Kim, D-Kalihi, to release the full version of the report, which they received from Harris, if they think its contents should be made public.
“i you disagree with us about the redactions, release them,” Harris said. “Don’t argue with me about our redactions. We’re taking the precautions.”
Kim and Ihara said they are awaiting guidance from the state Office of Information Practices on the issue. OIP Director Cheryl Kakazu Park has been absent from her office since early last month and is scheduled to return October 8.
Committee members were also unhappy with Harris’s response to a request for a running tally of expenses of incurred by the University because of the cancelled concert.
A written response he sent to the committee listed only a $25,000 contract, which his private law firm received from the University.
Kim gave Harris a listing of $1.13 million in expenses, which the committee attributes to botched event.
Among those expenses are $200,000 deposit paid to a Miami, Florida, entertainment promoter, Epic Talent LLC, which has never been recovered, and more than $600,000 that will be paid to former UH Athletic Director Jim Donovan in a legal settlement reached after he was removed from his job and threatened to sue over his removal.
Harris and University personnel, including Board of Regents vice chairman James H.Q. Lee, asserted that because Donovan will be paid that money in salary over three years for a new UH job he is now performing, the money should not be counted as a concert-related expense.
UH Manoa Chancellor Tom Apple maintained that money for Donovan’s new salary comes from two unfilled positions in his office that, if filled, would have cost the University $40,000 more than Donovan is receiving.
In other developments, University personnel said they never reported the missing concert money to the Honolulu Police Department.
Kim said HPD Chief Louis Kealoha told her “no report was made, they were never notified, there were never any discussions with the University.”
In comments sure to aggravate the police department, Lee said the regents “didn’t think the police department would be able to handle all of that.”
Ihara told Lee that his response “about why HPD, Honolulu Police Department, was not even informed of a crime, potential crime happening in Hawaii baffles me. I mean, you could have at least let them know.”
Apple told the committee the FBI was contacted because the matter appeared to involve interstate activities that are the jurisdiction of the FBI.
Kim responded: “If I had $200,000 stolen from me, I would have called the police, the CIA, the FBI, anybody so I could get my money back.”
“I certainly would have called the local authorities being that Mr. Peyton is a local person,” Kim said.
Apple said he wasn’t sure why the police weren’t contacted, but he felt the “FBI do what they do best, better than anybody else.”
The FBI won’t comment on the status of its investigation.
The committee also heard from Rich Sheriff, UH Athletics arena manager, who worked with Peyton in trying to stage the Wonder concert.
Sheriff said he had had earlier dealings with Peyton, but the Wonder event was the first time they worked together on a show.
He said his “superiors” told him “they had checked out Mr. Peyton, I had seen his resume, so I knew he had done shows in Hawaii for 30 years.”
Asked by Sen. Sam Slom, R-Hawaii Kai, if those superiors knew that Peyton was in financial difficulties, Sheriff said, “All I was told was that they had checked out Peyton and that he had good reviews.”
Peyton recently was discharged from a federal court personal bankruptcy case and his Kailua home is in foreclosures.
Peyton was invited to appear at today’s hearing, but he is in Castle Medical Center undergoing treatment for serious medical problems. His doctor and lawyer said that since mid- August, Peyton has undergone numerous surgeries, including a leg amputation.
Asked by Kim if thought the concert promotion was “a scam,” Sheriff said he has talked a lot with Peyton “and he feels like he was working with legitimate people.”
Whether Peyton was “scammed from the beginning, I can’t say,” Sheriff told the committee.
Sheriff had high praise for Donovan, but Apple told the committee he determined shortly after taking the chancellor’s job in late June Donovan would need to be replaced.
“I did not feel that I wanted to go forward with Jim Donovan as Athletic Director,” Apple said.
After Donovan was removed, Apple received a letter signed by 43 of 44 athletic coaches that thanked him for his leadership, Apple said.
“Coaches are happy that we have a change,” he said.
Sen. Donna Mercado Kim said the committee would prepare a written public report and look forward to receiving additional documents from the University that Senators had requested but had not been provided in time for the hearing.