Tourism agency faces increased accountability
By Katherine Nichols
Advertiser Staff Writer
Amid actions aimed at tightening legislative control over the Hawai'i Tourism Authority, another gubernatorial nominee for the authority's board joined a growing chorus in demanding more tangible performance standards and accountability related to the authority's $45 million marketing contract with the Hawai'i Visitors & Convention Bureau.
In a Senate hearing Thursday, Lorrie Lee Stone, a partner in the law firm Rohlfing & Stone, said that she is not a "tourism insider," but that the knowledge she has gleaned from 15 years as a practicing attorney in Hawai'i will help her play a pivotal role in making the authority responsible to the Legislature for its decisions and contracts.
Other actions by the Senate Committee on Tourism and Intergovernmental Affairs included signing bills to cap the salary of the new executive director of the tourism authority, adding two members to the tourism authority board of directors, and reassigning the responsibility to market, operate, manage and maintain the Hawai'i Convention Center to the tourism authority, possibly ending the bureau's $4 million contract to market the center.
The committee report signed Thursday would cap the salary of the executive director for the tourism authority at $325,000. The figure represents the executive director's entire compensation package, and is a ceiling rather than a recommendation, according to Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, D-15th (Kalihi Valley, 'Aiea). "We put that amount to give them room," she said.
Former executive director Robert Fishman, whose contract allowed for $182,000 per year over three years, resigned in November when he was called up for active duty at the Pentagon. Richard Humphreys, the board's interim chief, took the temporary post for a $1 fee. Tony Vericella, head of the Hawai'i Visitors & Convention Bureau, was paid $360,400, including salary and bonuses, last year.
The authority has been searching for a new executive director.
To set the salary cap, Kim said she sacrificed the proposal that the new executive director be confirmed by the Senate. "I thought it was a good compromise," she said.
The House and the Senate will vote on the bill Tuesday.
Another bill that may be on the Tuesday list would add two members to the tourism authority board of directors, increasing the voting members from 11 to 13. Five nominees have already made their way to the Senate.
Stone's testimony this week followed that of Mike McCartney, Nadine Nakamura, Sharon Weiner and Stephen Yamashiro in the confirmation process for terms ending June 30, 2006. Stone will replace Peter Schall on the board of directors.
Sen. Sam Slom R-8th (Wai'alae Iki, Hawai'i Kai), asked Stone if she thought her legal work for Outrigger Hotels & Resorts presented a conflict. Stone, who is married to Ko Olina developer Jeff Stone, clarified that she had not been involved in Outrigger's Waikiki zoning issues, but said she would make an effort to report to the board any potential conflicts and recusing herself from voting and discussion, if necessary.
Before Stone's hearing, authority board member Ron Wright said that the tourism authority has hired search firm Inkinen & Associates before board approval and is paying the company "in the $50,000 range" to recruit, review resumes, conduct interviews and submit a short list of candidates for executive director to the authority's search committee.
Kim said she thought that hiring a firm before it had been approved by the authority's board was a "violation" of the rules, and an example of the board ignoring points made in the state auditor's report, which noted several occasions when the authority approved contracts after events had taken place.
"No one said we couldn't do what we're doing," said Wright, who said he believed a new executive director would be hired by Aug. 1.