Maui News

Petition Draws 1,000+ Signatures Seeking to Reinstate Director at Hui No Ke Ola Pono

By Wendy Osher
July 21, 2021, 10:03 AM HST
* Updated July 21, 10:06 AM
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Joey Gonsalves. Courtesy file photo (2013).

A Change.org petition has garnered more than 1,000 signatures seeking the reinstatement of Joseph “Joey” Gonsalves as Executive Director of Hui No Ke Ola Pono, a Native Hawaiian not-for-profit organization dedicated to health care and disease prevention on Maui.

Backers of the petition say they are “devastated” that the Board terminated his employment, alleging lack of transparency, compassion and consideration of years of progressive service. Supporters of Gonsalves say they do not know why the board took the steps they did, calling the process “secretive and counter to the values of aloha and ʻohana.”

The Board responded to Maui Now’s request for comment saying, “Employment decisions and, particularly, disciplinary actions are confidential personnel matters. It is not appropriate for the details of these decisions and actions to be made public, out of concern and protection for both the former employee and the organization.”

The termination took effect on July 12, 2021, and on Thursday, July 15, 2021, the Board said it shared with staff that it “acted decisively.”

“After consideration of the evidence presented and that failure to act would have amounted to a failure of our fiduciary duties as Board Members to safeguard the funding and nonprofit status of the Hui. As the Board, we assured Staff that we made this decision with understanding of the gravity of this decision, after the necessary gathering of facts and due diligence, and with respect and empathy for all involved, especially Joey,” the Board stated in email communication to Maui Now.

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The petition further states that the actions taken by the board, “seriously affect employee morale” and say it will lead to a negative impact on clientele.  “It is our hope that you reconsider your actions because we know anecdotally and summatively that the work the Hui is doing is good and driving towards the Huiʻs mission of developing healers in every ʻohana.  It is our hope that you understand the unanimity of this petition among Hui employees and consider the overall wellbeing of the Hui and the work that we do on behalf of the Maui Native Hawaiian Community,” the petition stated.

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The Board contends it has mechanisms in place to ensure accountability in decision making. “In all our decisions, the Board takes seriously our duties of care, loyalty, and obedience to the Hui. We are diligent in looking for what is in the best interest of the Hui, we do it with undivided allegiance to the organization, as a whole, and we ensure we follow both our founding charitable purpose and applicable state and federal laws in looking out for the Hui.”

Backers of Gonsalves spoke of his leadership, pointing toward successful advances in funding, incorporation of Native and traditional western healing to benefit clientele, expansion to include pharmacy services, and implementation of the Ornish program to reverse heart disease. “We are unsure if the board is aware of the huge strides the Hui has made in service to the Native Hawaiian Community under Mr. Gonsalves leadership,” according to the petition.

“The Hui is providing dental care to many Native Hawaiians who would never have received this service if not for the Hui,” the petition stated. “There are many other instances of the excellent service the Hui provides.  The one commonality that these services have is that they were created during Joeyʻs time as the Executive Director.”

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The mission of Hui No Ke Ola Pono as outlined on the organization website, is to improve the health status of Native Hawaiians by empowering the present and future generations to be their own health advocates. Hui No Ke Ola Pono serves as a “bridge” to the Native Hawaiian community by integrating medical care with traditional Hawaiian values.

Petitioners also expressed concern over approach saying, “We are most concerned with this board’s lack of compassion for our Executive Director who has given 27 years of service to the Hui and in service to the Native Hawaiian community. We are concerned that the health and welfare of our Executive Director was not considered – he had just completed surgery.”

In response to our request for comment, members said, “The Board will not comment on a current or former employee’s private health information.”

Eric Kapono, who is now serving as the Interim Executive Director, has been working with the Hui since October 2020 on developing a strategic plan for the organization. “In that process, his expertise in nonprofit administration and strategy have earned him the respect and trust of the Board,” members said. While speculation has surface, the Board says there is no one identified as the new, permanent, Executive Director of the Hui.

While the the Board and petitioners are in disagreement over the actions taken, both have separately expressed a desire to serve out of concern and interest in Native Hawaiian health.

Meantime petition organizers say a sign waving event will be held in support of Gonsalves on Friday July 23, 2021 at 4 p.m. fronting UHMC/Queen Kaʻahumanu Shopping Center.

Wendy Osher
Wendy Osher leads the Maui Now news team. She is also the news voice of parent company, Pacific Media Group, having served more than 20 years as News Director for the company’s six Maui radio stations.
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