Payday at my office,” Matthew Hurst

September 24, 2019; Civil Beat (Honolulu, HI)

Hawaii’s Sand Island Treatment Center, a rehab facility for those with substance abuse issues, has been the focus of an investigation by Civil Beat since April because it reportedly plays fast and loose with the truth about what it pays people, regularly citing one figure in a state contracts, for instance, and up to twice that amount in the organization’s 990.

This was true for Cathy Ahana, one of Sand Island’s top counselors, whose salary for 2013 and 2014 averaged $141,390. But in a Department of Health contract, it quoted her salary at around $70,000. She also listed her salary at around the lower figure in a divorce proceeding in 2009 even while her salary on the 990 for the same year was listed at $144,754. Ahana is a counselor, a position for which the average pay in Hawaii is $47,000.

John Hill at Civil Beat goes through numerous examples of unusual pay disparities here, including allegations of a weird double-paycheck kickback scheme that left workers in trouble with state tax and benefits systems.

But, as might have been anticipated, unusual pay seems to extend right to the top of the organization. Executive director Mason Henderson’s pay far exceeds that of CEOs at similar organizations in the area, even when they are far larger. In fact, the organization to which Sand Island chose to compare itself to in its search for reasonable compensation comparisons was the Betty Ford Center, which, at the time the comparison was made, had a revenue base four times Sand Islands’ and a budget now 50 times as large. In April, Civil Beat published a graph showing the budget and salary comparisons locally.

As you may have suspected, two highly paid staff members were on the six-member board of this facility in April when Civil Beat did its original investigation. Henderson is one, having been on the board since 1998, and Natividad Morin, the organization’s operations director, joined the board in 2003, serving as its treasurer ever since. Morin is one of the organization’s best paid employees. Readers know that NPQ frowns on the presence of paid staff on boards of directors, and in this case, they made up a third of the decision-making body that has been setting those salary levels.

Without citing chapter and verse of the rest of this mess, suffice it to be said that in our estimation, it looks like Hawaii’s state attorney general, who has looked into this situation—going as far as to request a board refresh—has dropped a few balls that he should make his business to pick up. We’d like to help Civil Beat make that case. According to the Beat, the new board is also made largely up of insiders. But one thing that is noted, and may explain some of the lack of state motivation in the situation, is Henderson’s profile as a political donor, where he plays both sides.—Ruth McCambridge