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Hawaii County cracking down on employee alcohol purchases

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KAILUA-KONA >> Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim’s administration has changed a policy regarding the use of taxpayer dollars by county officials to purchase alcohol. The move comes more than a month after former Mayor Billy Kenoi was acquitted of theft charges in a case that centered on whether his spending of hundreds of dollars on alcohol was a legitimate government expense.

The new policy implemented Monday makes it more difficult for officials to get approval for alcohol-related purchases. A request for approval must list how the county will benefit from purchasing the alcohol and be signed by the director of the requesting department, director of finance and Kim, West Hawaii Today reported.

“We feel that this is something that needed to be addressed,” said Managing Director Wil Okabe. “It starts at the top.”

Both the new and old policies prohibit the purchase of alcohol by county employees for consumption at restaurants and conferences. However, the old policy, instituted in 1999, had given the mayor and council chairman free rein to sign off on their own purchases.

During Kenoi’s tenure, the former mayor had used his county-issued credit card to cover personal expenses, including nearly $900 at a Honolulu hostess bar. His attorney had argued during trial that Kenoi bought alcohol at various events to show his appreciation for people and build relationships.

Kenoi was found not guilty on Nov. 1 of four charges of theft for purchases including whiskey, beer and other items for official business and one charge of making a false statement under oath.

One exemption under the new policy allows alcohol purchases by the county police department for training that is required for a formal written or instructional program.

“Aside from the police training, this will be a blanket prohibition on the purchase of alcohol,” Kim said.

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