The Hawaii Tourism Authority board voted today to fire the agency’s president and CEO George Szigeti without cause.
The board has agreed to pay Szigeti six months of pay in a lump sum on the day after his termination, which is set for Oct. 31. The severance amount was outlined in Szigeti’s contract, which had been slated to run through 2020. Szigeti’s annual salary is $297,675, with a $15,000 protocol fund and the use of a car for state business.
HTA Chairman Rick Fried said the board’s vote “to go in a new direction” was unanimous.
“One of the major reasons that we are doing this is the difficulty in the current political climate and the difficulty in keeping our budget through the Senate,” Fried said. “There also was some concern from some of the stakeholders in the broader tourism industry, although some were fine with him, about his institutional knowledge of tourism.”
Szigeti described the board’s decision as “mutual.”
Next up, he’ll try to find the balance for himself and his family that was hard to find while leading HTA.
“I’ll be taking a deep breath. I haven’t been able to do that in three years,” Szigeti said. “This team has really accomplished a lot; 2016 and 2017 were supposed to be flat to down. Instead we hit all the numbers. The challenge for the next CEO will be how to balance the numbers with managing the destination.”
Szigeti’s firing is the latest HTA shakeup. At least 11 HTA staff members, the majority in key positions, have left the organization since 2015, a high turnover rate considering that the agency has 20 full-time employees and 10 contract workers.
HTA took a $13 million legislative budget cut in May, and over the last several months has dealt with the resignations of its second- and third-ranked executives. In May, Gov. David Ige also withdrew his nomination to extend Fried’s HTA term, which expires July 1.
Fried said he doesn’t know his own status at HTA but understands that he can remain on the board as a carry-over until someone else is selected to take his place in a future legislative session.
Fried said the agency has selected a new chief operating officer to replace Randy Baldemor, but is waiting for the candidate to make it through the state’s vetting process. He said HTA is reviewing resumes for candidates to fill the position of former Chief Marketing Officer Leslie Dance.
An HTA administrative committee — including Craig Nakamura, Kelly Sanders and himself — plan to talk tomorrow about finding a new CEO and president, Fried said. They plan to form an executive selection committee, which would include HTA board members and stakeholders.
“I don’t know the new board members, but I’m very pleased with the current board members. I’m confident once we get through this properly that things will go well,” Fried said.