Kenoi releases credit card statements, pays back $7,500

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A $1,219.69 surfboard at a Honolulu store, $1,909.47 worth of equipment at a Kailua-Kona bike shop and $78.27 in sportswear from a Honolulu Quiksilver shop were among personal purchases Mayor Billy Kenoi made on his county charge card since being elected in 2008.

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A $1,219.69 surfboard at a Honolulu store, $1,909.47 worth of equipment at a Kailua-Kona bike shop and $78.27 in sportswear from a Honolulu Quiksilver shop were among personal purchases Mayor Billy Kenoi made on his county charge card since being elected in 2008.

Kenoi also paid a $700 tab at a karaoke bar across the street from his Hilo office, and his $566 state bar association dues, and he bought an $89.86 garment bag at a Kailua-Kona big box store, among many other personal purchases.

All of the personal charges were reimbursed or credited back on the card, according to documents provided Wednesday by the county Finance Department.

Between January 2009 and March 2015, Kenoi racked up a total of $122,314.86 on his county-issued card. In those years, he paid back $22,292.81 for personal charges on the card, usually within a month or so.

In addition, Kenoi on Tuesday paid the county another $7,503.90 in charges and interest attributed to purchases from 2009 to the present that he says were charged in conjunction with official county business. He paid for them in order to err on the side of caution, he said.

Many of those charges were for restaurants and gasoline.

“I wanted to make complete reimbursement of any charges on my pCard so the residents, the taxpayers, don’t have any difficulty understanding if it was official or personal,” Kenoi said.

The payments and records release follow a West Hawaii Today story on Sunday that revealed Kenoi had used his county-issued credit card to charge $892 at a Honolulu hostess bar in December 2013.

Reaction was swift on the newspaper’s site and in social media, with county residents weighing in to support the mayor, denounce the spending, and, as would be expected, make a lot of jokes and humorous memes at his expense.

An obviously abashed Kenoi said he is henceforth restricting the use of the card strictly for travel-related expenses.

“There are no excuses or justification for poor judgment. It’s on me. I expect and demand the best of myself and those around me,” Kenoi said. “Clearly, I need to do a better job of meeting those expectations. I would like to apologize to those whom I’ve disappointed and will continue to work every day to earn back your support and trust.”

The mayor has been unclear on why he put the charges on the county credit card instead of using a personal card.

Todd Belt, a political science professor at the University of Hawaii at Hilo, said the dust-up shouldn’t affect Kenoi’s ability to govern for the approximately two years remaining in his term, but it could become campaign fodder later.

“I don’t think it will affect his ability to govern as mayor,” Belt said. “As for higher office, opposition research likes to use things like this to call into question a candidate’s judgment.”

“We live in a world where everything is digitized. Every Twitter joke can come back to cause problems later on,” he added.

The newspaper had been asking for credit card statements for almost four years and had been provided summaries of charges instead. It took almost a year for a clarified request under the state’s Uniform Information Practices Act to be acted upon.

The newspaper regularly reviews travel records and spending of top-level officials as a way to monitor how taxpayers’ money is spent.

Other than annual trips to Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, Kenoi’s travel is primarily limited to Honolulu, where he lobbies the Legislature and state government officials, according to his records.

As a self-proclaimed “ambassador of aloha,” Kenoi’s tastes tend toward the nice enough, but not the lavish. Rather than fine dining, he generally likes to meet people at the Honolulu Elks Club and hosts dignitaries at Japanese or seafood restaurants, the records show. Motel stays tend to be at Aston Executive Centre Hotel, close to the Capitol, or the Ala Moana.

County policies and procedures for pCard use restrict the purchase of alcohol unless specifically authorized. Some merchant categories, such as dating and escort services, are blocked on the card.

In addition, according to the policy document, the cardholder is responsible for, “Using the pCard only for official purchases for which the cardholder will be responsible. … Not using the pCard for personal use.”

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The policy requires “if the pCard is inadvertently used for a personal purchase (i.e., a wrong card is used at a restaurant and the mistake is not noticed until after departing the restaurant), a full report must be submitted to the Director of Finance explaining the mistake, along with proper reimbursement.”

While reimbursing the county, Kenoi has not filed the required reports.

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