Kenoi complaint deferred

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The Hawaii County Board of Ethics deferred a citizen’s petition filed against Mayor Billy Kenoi because of use of his county-issued credit card for personal expenses.

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The Hawaii County Board of Ethics deferred a citizen’s petition filed against Mayor Billy Kenoi because of use of his county-issued credit card for personal expenses.

The board voted 3-0 Wednesday to wait until the state Attorney General’s Office completes its investigation of the matter before proceeding with the complaint. Chairwoman Ku Kahakalau said the board members plan to review public records of the card charges in the meantime.

“I’d rather move forward,” said board member Douglas Adams, who made the motion. “I think we’d be hindering or perhaps causing problems for the other investigation, and that’s not what we should be doing.”

Kapaau resident Lanric Hyland filed the petition alleging Kenoi violated ethics rules for using the card for personal expenses that included trips to Honolulu hostess bars.

The petition also names county Finance Director Deanna Sako.

Hyland, while speaking via videoconference from Waimea, said the board should not defer the matter since the state Attorney General’s Office said the ethics complaint can advance at the same time as the investigation.

“I would object in the strongest of terms,” he said when asked if he would be OK with a deferral. “It’s a cancer on our body politic and we would really like to get rid of it.”

The board’s vote in Hilo followed testimony from 14 Big Island residents, most of whom urged Kenoi to be punished or to resign.

“Without checks and balances, we shall become a failed democracy,” said Peter Risley while testifying from Waimea. “That is what is at stake.”

Kohala Councilwoman Margaret Wille told the board time is “of the essence.”

“This is like a wound that is allowing to fester and grow and grow,” she said.

A few testifiers, who cited his record as mayor, spoke in Kenoi’s defense.

“I feel that due process hasn’t been given to him,” said Floyd Eaglin. “Everyone gets a chance to redeem themselves.

“Everyone has skeletons in his closet; I got a graveyard in mine.”

Some said his successes don’t justify charging personal expenses to the county, even if he later paid it back.

“Billy, you did some great stuff, but you are also a bad boy,” said Toby Hazel, while turning to face Kenoi.

That prompted a laugh and smile from the mayor who otherwise appeared subdued while sitting near the back of the audience with his attorney, Howard Luke.

During his tenure, Kenoi, who didn’t speak during the board meeting, has repaid the county $31,112.59 for charges he determined to be personal and not business-related. He told reporters in Honolulu a month ago he doesn’t have a personal credit card.

Kenoi charged a total of $129,580.73 on the card, known as a pCard, before it was rescinded following newspaper reports about the personal charges.

Attorney Brian DeLima, who is representing Sako, urged the board to remove her from the petition.

Sako became the finance director in January, and DeLima said she shouldn’t be part of the complaint.

“She’s not involved and should not be involved in the allegation,” he said.

The board took no action on that request.

Sako previously said former Finance Director Nancy Crawford warned Kenoi about the personal charges in 2013 and that she thought they stopped.

The county Finance Department released Kenoi’s pCard records to a West Hawaii Today reporter only after Big Island newspapers ran a story in March about him charging $892 from a trip to Club Evergreen, a Honolulu hostess bar, on the card in December 2013. That information was obtained from an alternate source after the county repeatedly declined since 2009 to provide those records.

Previously, the county only provided a summary of the charges in response to the reporter’s records requests.

Kenoi reimbursed the county for the Club Evergreen bill in March 2014. A $400 tab at another hostess bar, the Camelot Restaurant and Lounge, was charged in September 2009. He paid that back the next day.

County pCard policies prohibit personal charges and allow charges for alcohol only under certain circumstances.

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The county’s legislative auditor also is investigating the use of pCards by county employees.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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