After more than a year and a half of troubling revelations, investigations and finally a criminal trial regarding Hawaii County Mayor Billy Kenoi’s misuse of a government credit card for personal purposes, the drama concluded Tuesday with jurors finding him not guilty.
But make no mistake: “Not guilty” only means the jury couldn’t find criminal intent on Kenoi’s part on four counts of theft and one count of making a false statement under oath. It should not be confused with “innocent,” which Kenoi certainly is not.
Let’s review the facts, which are not in dispute.
Kenoi received both direction on how his government purchase card or pCard was and was not to be used and repeated admonitions from the county’s finance director on his misuse of the card in 2013.
But Kenoi, who is an attorney, ran amok with the card anyway. The tales of his outrageous personal use of the card are practically legendary — hefty bar bills, a tab at a hostess bar, even a $1,200 surfboard.
County policy dictates that pCards should not be used for personal expenses, period. When they are — perhaps by mistake, for instance, by an official who mistakenly pulled the wrong card from a wallet to cover a charge — reimbursement should be made quickly.
Hawaii County’s top elected official not only flagrantly misused his authority and position, there is no evidence that he would have ever repaid those personal charges if he hadn’t been caught in the act.
Kenoi followed neither the directive not to use the card for personal charges nor its requirement for rapid repayment. Even as West Hawaii Today repeatedly sought his pCard statements over several years dating to 2010, Kenoi blocked their release and continued to misuse his spending privileges.
When West Hawaii Today finally obtained proof of misspending in March 2015 — nearly $900 at a Honolulu hostess bar in December 2013 — it eventually prompted a year-long state investigation and the criminal trial that concluded Tuesday.
Civil Beat was among many calling over the past year for Kenoi to step down. We continue to believe that would have been the most appropriate course of action.
After all, Kenoi acknowledged in the earliest coverage of the matter that he “used my pCard when I shouldn’t have” and that he “could have exercised better judgment.”
But that egregiously soft pedals what was involved in this case. The county’s top elected official not only misused his authority and position, there is little reason to believe that he would have ever repaid some of those personal charges if he hadn’t been caught in the act.
The criminal trial didn’t disprove that. What it did prove is that jurors were willing to give a likable public official, whose love for Hawaii County and its people has never been in question, another chance by determining that no criminal intent was at play in Kenoi’s actions.
In just a few weeks, Kenoi will have finished two four-year terms and will leave the mayor’s office. In January, Harry Kim will officially replace him.
Kenoi will leave with a significant blemish on the final two years of his service and significant baggage to carry, should he seek public office again.
But Kenoi isn’t the only one who suffers in this. The whole affair — including the verdict — erodes citizens’ faith in government, which is a pretty lousy legacy for any public official.
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