SB2325 Relating to Mauna Kea

As we continue an examination of the proposed legislation concerning Mauna Kea we come to the next bill SB2325. This bill advanced for the 2018 legislative session would require a “forensic financial audit” of the organizations that manage Mauna Kea.

Gemini and UH88 Under Moonlight
Gemini and the UH88 under moonlight
There is very little text to the actual bill, it is quite short, a single page. Notably there is no explanatory justification as is customarily found in the first section most bills. No explanation as to why this legislation is being proposed or why it is needed.

What is there is a laundry list of organizations to be audited starting with the University of Hawaii and the Department of Land and Natural Resources. The list specifically includes the Hawaii Island New Knowledge Fund charity set up to allow observatory contributions to the educational needs of Hawaii Island students.

The state auditor shall have all the powers established pursuant to chapter 23, Hawaii Revised Statutes, including the power to subpoena any related licenses, grants, commercial activities, patents, intellectual property, and astronomical observation time at the University of Hawaii related to Mauna Kea, and anyone who has a financial interest in Mauna Kea permitted by state law. – Section 3b of SB2325 Hawaii Legislature 2018 session

The bill can be seen as part of a struggle for control of Mauna Kea. This struggle is highlighted in the current TMT legal process and lawsuits like the current Office of Hawaiian Affairs accusations of mismanagement.

Having some visibility into the management of the mauna, and occasionally attending OMKM board meetings, I am not aware of any major issues in the fund handling. The amounts are not all that large in the scheme of things, what there is does get spent on the mauna where it belongs.

Even a cursory examination of the issue reveals that funding sources are not overly generous and the needs are substantial. Those of use who work on the mauna see the money getting spent every day for road maintenance, providing for the crowds of visitors to the mauna, and the plethora of demands required by the comprehensive management plan.

An MKSS snowplow clears the road atop Mauna Kea
There is a great deal of money involved with astronomy on Mauna Kea. The large telescopes are expensive to maintain and operate. Notably the organizations that do provide and spend that money are either government organizations with public budgets available for examination, or are setup as charitable corporations already subject to annual audits that are publicly available.

Will issues be found? Of course. Any thorough audit will reveal things… Mistakes, errors in procedure, and other issues that could be improved. Any such issues will probably be minor, but will be readily seized upon by opponents of the current management of the mountain. The audit’s overall results will be ignored, whatever issues the audit reveals will be cherry picked and used as legal arguments in any further proceedings.

One thing an audit will do? Show just how much money the observatories do pay to the state over and above the oft maligned $1 lease. It is a substantial amount, much of the operating budget for the Mauna Kea Support Services.

Given the list of organizations to be audited, and the complete lack of creditable accusations of wrongdoing, it becomes quite clear that there no justification for a “forensic” audit. This is simply a fishing expedition in the truest sense of that old adage. As such this legislation is completely a political maneuver and has no real value in addressing the needs of Mauna Kea.

Author: Andrew

An electrical engineer, amateur astronomer, and diver, living and working on the island of Hawaiʻi.

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