Gov. Neil Abercrombie stuck close to home to start the new year, taking only one off-island trip in January, according to the latest round of travel records obtained by Civil Beat.
But in February, his state-sponsored traveling picked up with a few flights to the neighbor islands and a week on the mainland.
In all, the governor made three trips to the Big Island, one to Maui and one to Washington, D.C., during the first two months of 2014. Total cost to Hawaii taxpayers: $14,635.
By comparison, Abercrombie ended 2013 by going on eight trips in November and December, costing roughly $20,000.
Unlike other states, the governor’s travel records are not readily available in Hawaii, which makes it hard for the public to know where he is going and what the purpose of the trip is in order to evaluate whether it’s a good use of taxpayer dollars.
Civil Beat first requested Abercrombie’s travel records and related expenses in June 2013. We wanted the records dating back to the day he took office, Dec. 6, 2010.
The governor’s office said it would cost $1,016 for that information. The cost included an estimated 6.5 hours that staff believed it would take to find the records, 47 hours to review them and redact anything confidential, and $71 to copy an estimated 1,420 pages at 5 cents per page.
We’ve been working with the governor’s staff to obtain those records in more timely, affordable and digestible chunks. In April, we reported on the governor’s fall travels. The governor’s office charged us $105 for 112 pages of travel records for August, September and October.
The most recent batch we obtained, for January and February of this year, cost $47.75 for 55 pages. The governor’s office said it took two hours to track down the records and 4.5 hours to review and segregate them.
Under exceptions in Hawaii’s Uniform Information Practices Act, the office redacted personal information like home addresses, birth dates and credit card numbers. The office also blacked out portions that fell under an exemption protecting information that would, if disclosed, result in “a frustration of legitimate government function.”
In the notice to Civil Beat explaining what information fell under the latter exemption and why it was redacted, the office said state email addresses were blacked out because “when our emails are released on mass records or posted on websites/messaging boards, hundreds of spam emails or ads to newsletters fill up our mailboxes and result in a frustration of legitimate government function.”
Abercrombie and his special assistant, Marvin Wong, plus the standard two-man security team, flew to Hilo on Jan. 11 for a blessing ceremony for the new home of the College of Hawaiian Language. The flights cost $1,008 total.
The first week of February the governor went to Kona twice with two security guards, costing a combined $1,640.
The first trip was for the Cherry Blossom Festival, a visit to the Historic Spencer House, tree plantings and to stop by a studio to record a 45-minute radio interview.
The second trip there that week was to meet with the Kona Agriculture Community and to attend the groundbreaking of a Hawaiian Homestead development that is expected to house 117 Native Hawaiians.
On Feb. 13, Abercrombie went to Maui for the day with his security guards and Jesse Souki, state planning director. They attended the Conservation International Board of Directors dinner at Gannon’s Restaurant at Wailea. Flights for the four of them cost $701.
The only trip out of Hawaii that Abercrombie went on during the first two months of the year was a weeklong visit to Washington, D.C., for the National Governors Association 2014 Winter Meeting.
The cost to fly the governor, two security guards and his chief of staff, Bruce Coppa — plus put them all up at the JW Marriott Washington Hotel — was $11,523.
There were some savings on the airfare though. Abercrombie routinely flew first-class on trips to the mainland in 2013. The comfier seat and complimentary meals generally cost twice as much.
When the governor flew to D.C. last June for a Chamber of Commerce event, his first-class ticket was $2,350. His economy-class seat for his February trip to the Capitol cost $1,145.
The governor’s office said he flew economy-class for the NGA meeting so he could sit next to his wife, Nancy Caraway, who paid for her flight with personal funds. She traveled with him to attend the NGA’s Program for First Ladies.
It was a busy week, mostly filled with meetings with the other governors and their staffs.
There were a few opportunities to speak with President Barack Obama too, most notably a dinner at the White House for the Democratic governors.
But Abercrombie made time for other stuff too, including an evening reception at the Brazilian ambassador’s residence, a talk with Environmental Protection Agency officials, a “courtesy visit” with Sen. Dick Durbin and a private chat with David Cohen, executive vice president of Comcast Corporation.