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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Tourism authority nominees sound off

By Katherine Nichols
Advertiser Staff Writer

A gubernatorial nominee for the Hawaii Tourism Authority board of directors said she would not support renewal of the authority's $45 million marketing contract with the Hawai'i Visitors and Convention Bureau when it ends in December unless "certain problems that exist in the relationship are rectified."

In a Senate hearing yesterday, Sharon Weiner, DFS Pacific group vice president for business development, offered no details on what problems exist, but said "there is something deeply wrong with this relationship that needs to be fixed."

Weiner and her fellow nominee for the authority's board of directors, former Big Island mayor Stephen Yamashiro, testified yesterday before the Senate committee on Tourism and Intergovernmental Affairs. They followed Mike McCartney and Nadine Nakamura in the confirmation process for terms ending June 30, 2006.

In a major restructuring of the tourism authority, five of the 11 voting members of the board will be replaced at the end of June.

Sen. Sam Slom, R-8th (Hawai'i Kai, 'Aina Haina), asked Weiner if she would remain open-minded about renewing the bureau's contract, and whether or not other entities were capable of fulfilling that marketing role.

"Not that I know of," Weiner answered. "But that doesn't mean no." If there are no serious competitors, she said, "that's a problem."

She also said the new board should select the executive director. "There's no more important decision we'll make."

The fact that the Senate committee wants the new executive director to be approved by the Senate is "indicative of the lack of confidence" the Senate has in the authority, Weiner said. She expressed caution about the precedent it might set for other appointments, and how it could inhibit the recruitment process by subjecting a top candidate to the possibility of being denied the job in a public forum.

Several testimonials in Weiner's favor noted her experience in marketing and tourism. For two years, she has worked as group vice president for DFS after owning the Honolulu public relations firm now known as Stryker Weiner Yokota for 20 years.

In 1977, Weiner contributed to the first state tourism plan. She served on the Stadium Authority for eight years and has been on the board of regents for the University of Hawaii for the last three, both gubernatorial appointments. To serve on the Tourism Authority board, Weiner must resign from the board of regents.

Fellow nominee Yamashiro differed from the other three nominees, who have received little public opposition, with nearly 20 letters from Big Island residents opposing his appointment. One letter said he "actively pushed for special interests and big development that has done much to destroy our image as a rural island." Other letters detailed his support of the Hokuli'a project, a development recently declared illegal.

However, an equal number of letters offered support for Yamashiro.

When Slom inquired about his analysis of the authority's budget, Yamashiro said he could see why the Senate would be concerned, and called the authority's method of dispensing money a "hodge podge."

Yamashiro also agreed with Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, D-15th (Kalihi Valley, 'Aiea), that the authority should "share as much information as possible" with the Senate and public. When details about policies and spending are discussed openly, Yamashiro said, "perhaps some of the questions will go away."