KAILUA-KONA >> Embattled Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi has left high school students with a message of perseverance following an event aimed at teaching Hawaii’s youth about leadership.
Kenoi, who is facing two counts of felony theft and other charges, gave the keynote speech during the fifth annual LEI program on Friday. LEI — which stands for leadership, exploration and inspiration — exposes high school students to potential careers in the local tourism industry. The event is hosted by ClimbHI in partnership with Hawaii County and the Big Island Visitors Bureau, and is sponsored by the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Julie Morikawa, president of ClimbHI, said Kenoi’s legal problems were not a concern and that the decision to speak at the event was left up to him, West Hawaii Today reported Saturday.
“The program is bigger than all of us, and it is bigger than any individual,” Morikawa said. “This really would not be possible without the county. There really was not a consideration on what he has done in his past.”
A Hilo grand jury indicted Kenoi in March on charges of theft, tampering with a government record and making a false statement under oath. The charges stem from the alleged misuse of his county-issued purchasing card from 2011 to 2015. Kenoi has said through his attorney he will not step down from his mayoral post and will fight the charges.
While he did not address his legal troubles during the 30-minute speech, Kenoi did encourage the group of about 40 students to fight through their own challenges.
“Sometimes you fall down, sometimes you get hurt,” Kenoi said. “You cannot cry. You just got to get up. You got to dust yourself off. You got to keep going. Then you are going to trip again. It is OK. Just get up again, dust yourself off and keep going.”
Several students who attended the forum said they enjoyed Kenoi’s speech.
“I thought it was really touching,” said Dawstin Hoopai, a student at Kohala High School. “Even though he is in trouble, what he said is true. You can’t take him wrong for what he said.”
Anona Napoleola, a junior at Honakaa High School, said, “Listening to Billy Kenoi talk about dreams was my favorite part.”