Black and White and Read All Over
by Acting State Auditor Jan K Yamane, April, 2016
Sometimes our audit reports become a part of the daily news cycle—everything from brief online summaries to television stories to the occasional weekend newspaper editorial. Oftentimes, our reports are greeted with underwhelming silence. Our August 2014 Follow-Up Audit of the Management of Mauna Kea and the Mauna Kea Science Reserve, Report No. 14-07, was one of those reports. As far as we could tell, at the time it was released, it was picked up by a single blogger, who had cut and pasted our summary onto his site.
Audit work is not a headline-grabbing activity: our audit teams determine legislative intent; review enabling statutes; and analyze budgets, policies, procedures, and administrative rules. After more than 3,000 hours on this painstaking work, our four person audit team determined that the University of Hawai‘i (UH) and the state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) had made progress on implementing many of the recommendations from our last audit of Mauna Kea’s management in 1998; however, some issues still remained unresolved.
For instance, we found that UH had not adopted administrative rules to implement its legal authority for its Mauna Kea management responsibilities. In the absence of such rules, UH had relied on unauthorized permits and informal agreements to manage and assess fees on commercial tour activities, which totaled nearly $2 million between FY2009 and FY2013. We urged the university to redouble its efforts to adopt administrative rules. Doing so would enable UH to fully implement its plans to safeguard the mountain and its unique resources.
All was quiet for more than a month until October 7, 2014, when a small group of protestors interrupted the groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT), the largest and last observatory to be built on the mountain. The protestors opposed TMT’s imminent construction as well as the 13 other existing observatories, which they believe desecrate sacred ground. The dispute soon became the catalyst for a statewide debate on Native Hawaiian rights and sovereignty issues, a controversy that was, and continues to be, discussed on news segments and in editorial pages throughout the nation and world.
Suddenly, our findings, conclusions, and recommendations became important reference material for both sides of the debate, helping to frame and clarify the important issues. A May 2, 2015, New York Times editorial cited our original 1998 audit and its conclusion that not enough had been done to protect the summit as it called for Governor David Ige to resolve the stalemate on Mauna Kea. Less than three weeks later, in a May 20, 2015, Honolulu Star-Advertiser editorial entitled “UH turned Mauna Kea into a poorly managed industrial park,” philanthropist Abigail Kawananakoa, a descendent of Hawaiian royalty, referred to our office’s “informed and objective analysis,” which she said provided needed balance between “preservation and development.”
Fifteen months after Report No. 14-07’s publication, in a November 29, 2015, Honolulu Star-Advertiser editorial entitled “The untold story of improvements in UH stewardship of Maunakea,” UH President David Lassner and UH Hilo Chancellor Donald Straney used our very same reports to support their contention that UH had made great advancements in its stewardship of Mauna Kea. They described how UH management didn’t dispute our 1998 audit findings but viewed them as a “wakeup call to drive the creation of a completely new approach to stewardship.” Lassner and Straney also quoted one of our 2014 audit’s findings that UH’s framework for managing and protecting Mauna Kea “balances the competing interests of culture, conservation, scientific research, and recreation.” They then cited various duties to protect the mountain that the university now carries out. Many of these policies and procedures were made in response to our recommendations.
However, the most gratifying reference to Report No. 14-07 occurred far from the glare of the media and well after its August 2014 publication. On March 3, 2016, one of our analysts, who had been a team member on the 2014 Mauna Kea audit, attended a panel discussion at the William S. Richardson School of Law entitled “Exploring the Next Steps to Malama Mauna Kea.” The panel included the state attorney general, the dean of UH’s Institute for Astronomy, as well as two attorneys for plaintiffs who had recently won a case before the Hawai‘i Supreme Court that invalidated the permit for the TMT and officially halted its construction.
The discussion began with the attorneys providing brief updates on the continuing litigation, while the dean spoke of the role of Mauna Kea, past contributions to astronomy, and the potential for more contributions to science. During a question and answer period, the moderator brought up our 2014 audit report as a discussion point, and each side cited our findings as evidence to support its respective position. The State/ UH referred to our finding that progress was being made toward bettering stewardship of the mountain and that the TMT lease benefits the State because of its lease payment requirements. The plaintiffs’ attorneys used our findings to highlight the lack of progress made by UH/DLNR on decommissioning, commercial permitting, and access.
“The fact that both sides of the debate and the moderator cited our report for their own respective purposes reflects the objective nature of our report,” wrote the analyst in a summary of the event. “Moreover, it brought home (to me) the importance of the work coming out of this office.”
I can’t think of a better validation of our work.
read … Auditor’s 2015 Annual Report
August, 2014: Mauna Kea Audit: UH Lacks Critical Rules