Digging deeper into Hawaii County pCard use


We’ve seen the credit card statements that landed Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi in hot water, but what about the receipts from those charges?

Turns out, there aren’t any.

KHON2 and our Always Investigating unit have been digging into the mayor’s expenses ever since he admitted to misusing his pCard, or purchasing card.

It all started with questions about a nearly $900 tab at a Honolulu hostess bar, questions that have now led to an investigation by the state attorney general.

The mayor’s spokesman told Always Investigating Wednesday that besides e-mailed itineraries for flights, hotels or rental cars, there are no receipts for any of Kenoi’s pCard spending as mayor.

The county pCard policy requires cardholders to document all purchases.

Now, we’re taking a closer look at all pCard spending.

Click to view statements for:

There are more than 230 others in Hawaii County who also have pCards.

One name jumps out on the list because she’s the mayor’s sister: Mary Kenoi-Okajima. She’s a planner in the county Office of Aging, but she holds a pCard with a credit limit as high as many department heads: $5,000.

There are some upscale hotels on Kenoi-Okajima’s statements, but the mayor’s office says those were either reimbursed by the state or booked for someone else.

Kenoi-Okajima’s other spending appears to be run-of-the-mill, though we are still seeking supporting documents that county policy requires to be filed with every month’s statement.

Most other pCard holders Always Investigating looked into do submit a substantial amount of detail, a written description of who, what, where and why; among them, the head of the Department of Liquor Control.

“It’s a pain sometimes to do all the paperwork,” said Liquor Control director Gerald Takase, “but I guess in this kind of situations it helps us.”

Why all the travel?

“Good question,” Takase said. “The feds kind of require the states and the counties to monitor it for them, so a lot of our travel spent, well the mainland travel anyway, is to keep abreast of what’s new on the federal level.”

Takase says trips to places like Las Vegas, Virginia, San Antonio and California help them learn how other counties are tackling new fads like powdered alcohol or controlling legalized marijuana in case that ever becomes Hawaii law too.

Other extensive backup detail comes in the finance department’s filings, the same folks who urged Kenoi to turn in better documentation and stop the personal spending.

Records show the finance director has a $10,000 credit limit like the mayor’s, but finance’s filings come with lots of explanation.

It also shows the good that quick pCard buying can accomplish. When Iselle ransacked the Puna area, the department was able to quickly up its credit limit to $40,000 and buy lots of ice for the victims.

The limit was taken right back down to $10,000 after the crisis response.

As Always Investigating kept digging, we found more about other high-profile officials’ travel spending, and we uncovered a very well-fed bunch at the Department of Water Supply.

While nothing in our pCard review yet reaches the extent of Kenoi’s travel, meals and personal spending, there are a lot of charges that taxpayers may ask, why is the county paying for that?

We found most pCard filings have substantial backup documentation to try to answer that upfront, such as where did the Hawaii County police chief travel?

There are outings to San Diego, Orlando, Washington and Philadelphia, lots of trips to Honolulu and other neighbor islands, even charges at Maui’s The Ritz-Carlton. The chief puts many explanations for when and where right on his backup documentation.

Many other departments use similar formats to also explain why a certain expense passes the test of a county or official purpose. The Department of Water Supply does too, though they rang up more meals per person than any other in our review so far.

There are no lack of details about who was there and why, like Kiki’s After Hours in Honolulu on May 10, 2013, which was described as a “dinner meeting to discuss water/sewer billing” among other work topics.

More than $11,000 — money you paid for water — got spent at restaurants. The Hilo Yacht Club and the Bite Me Fish Market are where they ate up more than half that total alone.

Peter Boylan, spokesman for the Hawaii County mayor’s office, released the following statement regarding those purchases:

“The majority of restaurant charges such as the Hilo Yacht Club and Bite Me Fish Market are for lunches associated with Water Board meetings. The Department is appreciative of the service and value the Water Board members provide as volunteers with substantial responsibilities. Please note that Water Board members represent 9 Council districts on the Big Island which is over 4,000 sq. miles in area.  Some members have to travel substantial distances, involving hours worth of travel times (to and from) in addition to the board meeting duration. As such, we provide lunches. The venues we select are reasonably priced, conveniently located with adequate parking. The venues have also been accommodating and flexible as board meetings do not end at a set time.”

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