HTA denied on bid for emergency meeting
The agency is facing pressure from groups over racist e-mails
STORY SUMMARY »
The Hawaii Tourism Authority wants to revisit allegations that its chief executive, Rex Johnson, used his state laptop to forward pornographic, sexist and racist e-mails to friends.
But it is having trouble scheduling a date due to scheduling conflicts. And a request for an emergency meeting was rejected by the state attorney general for not meeting statutory requirements.
The HTA had elected to discipline rather than fire Johnson after he was caught forwarding pornography - but more sexist and racist e-mails have since surfaced.
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The state Attorney General has denied the Hawaii Tourism Authority's request to hold an emergency meeting to deal with the latest allegations that its embattled chief executive also forwarded racist and sexist e-mails from his state laptop along with the pornography that almost got him fired.
HTA CEO Rex Johnson has garnered support as an effective leader from some within the state's visitor industry and legislative circles, and the content of the most recent batch of e-mails that the state released to the media yesterday was clean. Those e-mails, which were sent from Johnson's state computer from June 2 to Aug. 7, came after Johnson had been caught sending pornographic e-mails.
"If anybody sent me anything that was suspicious, I have nuked it. That's the way that I should have been acting all along," said Johnson, who does not intend to resign.
The HTA chose to discipline Johnson rather than fire him last month; however, at the time, they were unaware that he also had forwarded e-mails that denigrated Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton, among others. The HTA board members are being pressured by Gov. Linda Lingle, who is preparing to host the International Women's Leadership Conference next Wednesday, to fire Johnson. The Hawaii Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and Girl Fest, which seeks to prevent violence against women and girls, will protest if he stays, they said.
Now, the HTA board wants to meet again, but is having trouble scheduling a date. Attorney General Mark Bennett said the board's request for an emergency meeting did not meet the state's statutory requirements. If such a meeting were held and later called into question, any action taken could be invalidated, Bennett said.
The next regularly scheduled HTA board meeting is Oct. 9. However, HTA Chairman Kelvin Bloom said that he hopes to schedule something sooner.
"It's complicated. Half-a-dozen board members are traveling or will be traveling in the coming week," Bloom said, adding that Johnson and some of them will be in Japan on business.
Still, the continued delay has irked human rights organizations such as the NAACP and Girl Fest.
"The HTA board should realize that this is impeding their most important responsibility," said NAACP President Alphonso Braggs. "How can they go to Japan or anywhere else and be effective when they have this mess at home?"
Braggs said Johnson called to apologize yesterday, but that it was not enough. If Johnson stays at his post, the NAACP will protest in Waikiki, Braggs said.
Girl Fest Hawaii, which will hold a festival in Honolulu from Nov. 7 to Nov. 15, has given up $5,000 in HTA funds and removed the organization's logo from its event materials, said Kathryn Xian, non-executive director of Girl Fest Hawaii and Girl Fest Bay Area.
Given that Girl Fest seeks to prevent violence against women and that Obama's half sister Maya Soetoro-Ng will be participating in the event, Xian said that the organization cannot take HTA support as long as Johnson stays.
"If they don't do anything, then it's clear that these people on the board really think that they are above the law," Xian said.