Sunday, November 29, 2015         

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Big Isle mayor takes heat for TV program expenses

By Leila Fujimori


The mayor of the Big Island is being criticized for spending $20,600 on his new television show after saying "This Week with Mayor Billy Kenoi" was being produced at no taxpayer expense.

Kenoi told a West Hawaii Today reporter the show was being produced by existing staff, within his existing budget.

"It's not costing taxpayers anything," an Oct. 8 article in the newspaper quoted him as saying.

The paper reported Oct. 13 that only after Kenoi's administration was confronted did officials produce a $15,000 contract signed Oct. 6, a day before the show's debut, by videographer Baron Sekiya.

A news release was also issued showing the purchase of $2,594.73 in video production equipment and an order for about $3,000 in editing equipment.

The Big Island mayor denies concealing the expenditure.

"I didn't say it's not going to cost anything extra," Kenoi told the Star-Advertiser. "It's coming from existing resources and existing staff. He's not my staff and he's not additional staff. He's a contract worker."

Sekiya will not work exclusively on the show, Kenoi said. Sekiya will train three staff members to produce the show and to use multimedia tools. He will also develop a website, social media and a newsletter.

"We just want to use multiple mediums," said Kenoi. He said he has no plans to extend the contract.

"It's money coming from a budget that is already reduced," Kenoi said, adding that he slashed the budget by 35 percent through actions that included eliminating 125 jobs -- vacant, funded positions.

Councilman Dominic Yagong said, "I think the mayor was not forthright ... because he said he was going to use in-house personnel. Even if it's in the budget, it did cost the taxpayers money."

The mayor has "taken a beating" in letters to the editors and local blogs, Yagong said, and the show "is his effort to put a positive spin" on things.

Yagong said response to the show has been a "lot of sarcasm."

The councilman said he had a public-access TV program, which did not cost taxpayers a dime. "It doesn't have to be professional," he said. "The people aren't looking for bells and whistles. Just give them the information."

The county's managing director said the mayor's office explored the idea of borrowing public access TV's video equipment at no cost.

But Kenoi defended the purchase, saying, "You want to make sure it's a quality product."

He said other mayors, such as Harry Kim, have had shows, too. "It's not featuring myself," he said. "It's this week with my administration."

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