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Kenoi apologizes at Council meeting for pCard spending

    Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi speaks to the County Council Wednesday in Hilo.

HILO >> Embattled Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi Wednesday morning made his first apology on Hawaii island for more than $129,000 in charges he billed to the county, including trips to Honolulu hostess bars.

Before outlining the county’s $434 million budget proposal, Kenoi said, “To the Hawaii County Council I begin by apologizing to all of you for the mistakes I made. To the council, to the administrators, to the hard-working employees of the county, to the good people who call Hawaii island home, to the people who are deeply disappointed, I am truly sorry.”

Kenoi’s demeanor was subdued, in sharp contrast to the animated and charismatic personality he usually displays across the Big Island.

Kenoi appeared at the council’s Special Meeting of the Committee on Finance one hour after speaker after speaker tore into the charges Kenoi billed to his county-issued purchasing card, or pCard.

Before Kenoi sat down to offer his apology, Hilo resident Russell Doi shouted from the audience, “Resign. Resign, Billy.”  

Kenoi previously took responsibility for his pCard spending and apologized in March at the state Capitol in Honolulu, a location that irked many Hawaii island residents.

The state Attorney General has launched a criminal investigation of Kenoi’s pCard spending, which included a $1,200 surfboard and other personal expenses.

Kenoi missed the hour-long public portion of the council meeting, in which speakers such as Doi and Greg Smith of Puna tore into Kenoi’s pCard spending.

“I’m very, very upset about this,” Smith told the council. “It shakes and deteriorates the very basis of our culture and our society and business.”

“To have the highest administrator in this county abuse that trust, what else?” Smith asked. “What the Hell else is this guy cheating? What do we do about that? The fact of the matter is that in the military if I screwed up just as badly as Mr. Kenoi did, the least I could expect is a reduction in rank and pay.”

In the private sector, Smith said, “If I screwed up as badly as the mayor, I wouldn’t be employed any more.”

Testifying via video, Waimea resident Matt Binder said, “Only one of you, Margaret Wille, dares utter a peep of criticism. I think the mayor has intimidated you into being followers.”

The council, Binder said, needs “to reduce the mayor’s power and make sure this atmosphere of intimidation from the mayor’s office is eliminated.”

Doi told the council, “Billy — he spend the money wrong way, look like.”

Doi said the council should suspend Kenoi “until this matter is resolved… Billy’s only human being. So it’s up to you, the council, to decide because nobody else got the power fo’ take care of Billy. … You folks should do one job and getting him out. Because you screwing up.”

In addition to the Attorney General’s investigation, Hawaii County’s legislative auditor is conducting an audit of county pCard use that’s expected to be released in June.

And a pCard-related ethics complaint has been filed against both Kenoi and Finance Director Deanna Sako, whose office handled Kenoi’s more recent pCard charges.

Kenoi, the 46-year-old married father of three teenagers, previously worked as a Honolulu deputy public defender and has retained three Honolulu criminal defense attorneys.

Kenoi had been repeatedly warned about using his pCard for personal expenses, which included $400 that he spent in 2009 at the Camelot Restaurant and Lounge hostess bar on Sheridan Street on Oahu and an $892 tab at the Club Evergreen hostess bar on Kapiolani Boulevard on Oahu in December 2013.

From 2008 to 2015, county records show lavish spending for drinks, dinners, luxury hotels and more than $100,000 on trips to Washington, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Texas, the Philippines and Japan. Kenoi also used his pCard to pay for his $565 Hawaii Bar Association dues and luxury stays at the Marriott Waikoloa Beach at $469 per night.

County spokesman Peter Boylan said Kenoi charged $129,580.73 to his pCard and has reimbursed the county $31,112.59.

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