“I want to take full responsibility of the issues of the government pCard,” Kenoi started off during this 16 and a half minute press conference, shared with us courtesy Hawaii News Now. The press conference was held on April 1, 2015 on Oahu. Kenoi is facing heavy scrutiny and some public backlash for his use of the county-issued credit card, although he says he has reimbursed tax payers for all charges.
video courtesy Hawaii News Now
HILO – The rising star of Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi dimmed this week, as state-wide media has reported on the mayor’s use of his county issued purchasing card, also known as a pCard, for personal purchases. A Hawaii Island-based journalist broke the news that Kenoi had used his card at a Honolulu hostess bar, and since then its been downhill for the popular Big Island official.
On March 29, Nancy Cook Lauer broke the story of Kenoi’s pCard use in West Hawaii Today. It was reported that the mayor charged $892 on his county card at the Honolulu hostess bar Club Evergreen in December 2013. Kenoi told the paper that he reimbursed the county for the expense in March 2014.
Any error in judgment in the use of my card is entirely my own. I take full responsibility for the purchases on my card. … Certainly I could have exercised better judgment.”Mayor Billy Kenoi in West Hawaii Today, March 29, 2015
Lauer and West Hawaii Today have been trying to get a hold of Kenoi’s pCard statements for years, “as a way to monitor the mayor’s travel and spending on the taxpayer dime.” But the paper reports the County Finance Department has been less than forthcoming, compiling for Lauer a summary of charges incurred by the mayor, instead of providing actual statements.
A year ago, the paper renewed its request for the statements under Hawaii’s open records laws. The December 2013 statement was obtained by the paper from a different source.
Following Lauer’s March 29 article, state-wide media jumped on the story. The situation became a political crisis for the popular mayor. Reaction was mixed. Many pledged their continued support for the mayor, while others expressed disappointment. Other suggested criminal charges should be filed.
On March 31, West Hawaii Today finally got a hold of the charge card statements and receipts for Kenoi’s reimbursements over the years. Other media requests were also fulfilled. Between January 2009 and March 2015, Kenoi racked up a total of $122,314.86 on his county-issued card. He paid back $22,292.81 for personal charges. He also paid back another $7,503.90 to “err on the side of caution” for charges made in conjunction with official county business.
Media reported charges of $1,200 for a surfboard and $1,900 on bicycle equipment. In September 2009, media reported Kenoi charged $400 at another Honolulu hostess bar, Camelot Restaurant and Lounge.
On April 1, Mayor Kenoi met with reporters on Oahu, where he apologized for his use of the card. That same day, he admitted to putting $9,000 on his county pCard for personal expenses during the past five years. Hawaii News Now provided the full video of the press conference (above) to Big Island Video News.
Following up on the story, West Hawaii Today and Oahu media reported County Prosecutor Mitch Roth would be handing over any criminal investigation into Kenoi’s pCard use to Attorney General Douglas Chin.
The whole affair has been a blow to Kenoi’s soaring popularity. In recent months, the mayor set himself apart from other politicians in the state of Hawaii with an assortment of viral videos and reassuring leadership during the Puna lava crisis. He even managed to complete the Ironman race in Kona in October, earning the nickname the Ironmayor. It remains to be seen how this incident will effect the upward trajectory of the man whom the Honolulu Star Advertiser’s Richard Borreca called “the most electable Democrat in the state.”