In addition to recently terminated Programming Director Shawn Michael, four additional former Akaku employees appeared at the Dec. 15, 2014 meeting of the public access cable channel’s board of directors to call for an independent investigation of management practices at the station. What’s more, one of the employees handed out copies of a letter signed by 14 former employees that said station staff have been “subjected to a gross abuse of power under the current CEO’s leadership” (see our Dec. 4, 2014 cover story “Stream Down” for more on Michael’s problems with the nonprofit station).
The meeting at Akaku Plaza (nicknamed “Halfway to Hell” by former employees because of its 333 Dairy Road address) began at 5:30pm and lasted about three hours. But the board spent two-thirds of that time in closed executive session with Honolulu attorney Bruce Voss of Bays Lung Rose & Holma on speakerphone.
Because the board chose to meet in the cramped Akaku Media Lab, former staffers and members of the public (like Wailuku attorney David Sereno, who said he was there to observe) had to stand along the back of the room while the board itself sat around a table draped in black. During executive session, they had to wait outside near the Akaku “Walk of Fame,” where friends of the station like George Kahumoku, Senator Roz Baker and former Governor Neil Abercrombie pressed their hand and foot prints in cement.
The reason for the board spending all that time spent in secret was simple–former employees kept stepping forward to denounce the current station management–and specifically, Akaku President and CEO Jay April.
“To this day, I don’t know why I was kicked out,” said Buck Joiner, a former Akaku producer around 2000 who said April was in the charge of the board meeting that led to his dismissal, which Joiner said took place after he asked for the then-CEO to investigate alleged grievances.
Linda Puppolo, a former Akaku Administrative Director, handed out copies of a new management plan and budget she put together on her own using the most recent station tax forms that are publicly available. “I’m not testifying against Jay April,” she said. “I’m testifying because I don’t like what’s going on.” She said employees past and present with any grievance “have nowhere to go” and are “afraid of retribution.” She said it was a “shame” the board had let problems fester for years. “I would like to see an investigation and I would like you to call me as a witness,” she added.
Elyssa Shimada, who had worked at the station in 2006, called Jay April her “friend,” but said there was “no room in the workplace for tyrant behavior” and “bullying is never, ever acceptable.”
Sara Tekula, Akaku’s Education Director until she was terminated a few years ago, presented the letter signed by 14 former employees. She spoke first of the great things April had done for the organization: “Because of Jay’s leadership, we have been able to win many political battles,” she said. Then she began to cry as she read from the letter.
“We support a detailed and transparent accounting of the current CEO’s leadership and management practices including but not limited to equity in employee salary and benefits, review of employee written performance evaluations and terminations, as well as an investigation into any perceived wrongdoings against employees, past and present,” the letter stated. “We suspect–if an independent and thorough investigation were to take place–that you will uncover more than enough information to confirm that Akaku and its staff has been subjected to a gross abuse of power under the current CEO’s leadership.”
Not everyone who showed up criticized April and Akaku management. Realtor and Democratic Party activist Lance Holter called April a “creative genius” and said “without Jay, we wouldn’t have Akaku.” He also denounced the former employees’ allegations as “completely misguided” but told them, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” When Holter was done, April humblebragged that he’d asked Holter and “quite a few” others who wanted to praise him not to attend the meeting.
The board ultimately took no action on any of the testimony offered at the meeting, though Board Chairman Gene Zarro said at the end that he would release a statement. Reached the next morning by phone, Zarro said he was also dealing with a recent death in the family and didn’t know when the statement would be finished. “We’re just trying to do the best we can,” he said.
Photo of former Akaku employees and members of the public at the Dec. 15, 2014 board meeting: MauiTime