Billy Kenoi, the lame duck Hawaii County Mayor, just can’t catch a break these days. His lawyers’ attempts to get criminal charges thrown out before trial was rejected, and then a video surfaced in which the apparently inebriated mayor liberally tosses out F-bombs in a rambling toast of sorts during an after-hours social event at a conference on Kauai.
The Hawaii Congress of Planning Officials Conference was held this week at the Grand Hyatt at Poipu, Kauai.
Civil Beat posted a video of the scene on Thursday (“Profanity-Laced Video Shows Mayor Partying Hard At Conference Party“). It’s a cringeworthy episode, and it’s hard not to feel sorry for the guy as he steers what’s left of his political train into another very big ditch.
Reporter and blogger Joan Conrow (Kauai Eclectic) identified the source of the video.
Though CB branded the video like it was its own, it was actually lifted from the Facebook page of Jonathan Scheuer, a member of the state Land Use Commission. So curious, that CB fails to note the one thing that actually is interesting about this shtick: a public official secretly taping other public officials.
To his credit, Scheuer deleted the two videos he’d taken at the event, and issued a FB apology:
First, the regular folks at the party did not expect to be videoed, even if the videos were not primarily of them. Second, the videos may have given some people the wrong impression that all we do is drink and party at this conference. This was one after-hours gathering at a three-day conference that is digging deeply into many substantive issues that face our islands. I am friends with many, many people at this conference, and many planners around the state, and they are some of the most dedicated people I know. I really regret having posted the videos for those reasons, and apologize to my planning colleagues for the harm this may have caused. I am sorry. 🙁
Conrow is critical of Civil Beat’s use of the Kenoi video.
Though the video has absolutely nothing to do with anything, and isn’t even entertaining, reporter Chad Blair justifies it because “Kenoi has been accused by criminal prosecutors of using taxpayer money to buy, as the prosecutors put it, “exorbitant amounts of alcohol.”
Uh, except that’s totally irrelevant, since no taxpayer money was used to host the after-hours Kauai Hyatt hospitality suite where the toast occurred.
But Conrow is wrong when she says “the video has absolutely nothing to do with anything,” although it’s not Kenoi’s self-destructive monologue that’s of public interest.
It seems to me that there are many potential ethical pitfalls in a setting like this which brings Hawaii’s government and corporate planners together under the sponsorship of many of the same development interests these planners are called on to regulate in their official capacities.
According to Civil Beat:
Kauai County spokesperson Sarah Blane told Civil Beat on Thursday the party was “an informal social gathering that was held after the formal program of events.”
The food and drinks were paid for by “event sponsors and individuals,” Blane said in an email. “The county did not make those purchases.”
…The conference was sponsored by some major corporations who do business in the state, including Kaiser Permanente, D.R. Horton Hawaii, Alexander & Baldwin, Kamehameha Schools and R.M Towill Corp.
The three-day conference included an evening of music and dance which boasted “prizes for best costume!”, a “Casino and Karaoke Night”, and a mid-week golf tournament at the Po‘ipu Bay Golf Course.
“There was also a giveaway contest of three Apple Watches or a two-night stay at the Four Seasons Resort Oahu at Ko Olina,” according to Civil Beat.
So forget Kenoi’s F-bombs. The real issue is ethics. I don’t know about you, but when our public planners are enjoying themselves to the booze and prizes provided by corporate sponsors who they will be called on to regulate when they return to their day jobs, I think that’s a serious concern. And that golf tournament? Did any of the government planners or board and commission members have their entry fees paid by friendly lobbyists? Were development and real estate lobbyists among those registered for the conference? Will all these activities be disclosed?
I hope staff of the State Ethics Commission take a good close look at the various issues raised. At minimum, it would be useful for everyone to have the commission’s guidance on how an organization like the Hawaii Congress of Planning Officials can avoid ethical issues when planning this kind of government-industry gathering in the future.