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The Honolulu Advertiser
Updated at 7:59 p.m., Monday, July 21, 2003

Vericella quits amid questions about HVCB

By Jaymes Song
Associated Press Writer

HONOLULU (AP) ÷ The head of the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau resigned Monday in the wake of a state audit that accused the agency of mishandling state funds.

Tony Vericellaâs resignation as president and chief executive of the agency was accepted by the HVCBâs board of directors and was effective immediately.

ãAfter much careful consideration, I have decided that it is in the best interests of our island communities that I resign as president and CEO of HVCB,ä Vericella said in a statement. ãI believe that by stepping aside, HVCB will be better able to move forward with the essential task of marketing the state of Hawaii unimpeded by the issues surrounding the legislative auditorsâ report.ä

The HVCB has been under fire since the July 1 release of a scathing report by state Auditor Marion Higa into its handling of $151 million in state-funded tourism promotion in the past two years.

The bureau is a nonprofit private organization that receives most of its funding from contracts from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, a state agency. It has the key responsibility of promoting tourism, which fuels the stateâs economy.

The report said inadequate oversight of the contracts by the stateâs Hawaii Tourism Authority gave the bureau ãa blank check to spend state funds for self-serving purposes.ä

The audit also found that state funds was used to pay for Vericellaâs parking and speeding tickets ($137), travel for family members ($174) and in-room hotel movies ($359).

Vericella has said he has repaid HVCB for the personal expenses and all of his expense reports would be examined.

After holding three days of hearings, the heads of the House and Senate tourism committees on Friday said they intend to ask the Legislature to form a joint investigative committee in January to look further into problems with the HVCBâs multimillion-dollar state contracts.

The audit also prompted a criminal investigation by the state Attorney Generalâs office.

Gov. Linda Lingleâs office on Monday night had few words in response to Vericellaâs resignation.

ãItâs an internal HVCB matter and we all need to move forward with marketing the state of Hawaii,ä Lingle said spokesman Russell Pang.

Vericella, who recently returned from Japan where he was promoting tourism along with Lingle and other officials, said he was proud of his accomplishments.

ãI have put my heart and soul into showcasing Hawaii and everything I have done has always been with the best of intentions for the people of Hawaii,ä he said.

The board of directors defended Vericella and never requested his resignation from the highly-paid position.

Vericellaâs total compensation in 2001 was $391,310, according to HVCBâs filing with the Internal Revenue Service obtained by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin.

Tony Guerrero, chairman of the HVCB board of directors, said Vericella has done a ãtremendous job.ä

ãWe bid aloha to a talented and dedicated individual who has represented Hawaii with passion and pride for the past six years,ä he said. ãHis leadership and vision for marketing Hawaii as the worldâs premier destination have been of great value to the entire state, particularly in the past couple of years with the unprecedented outside forces and economic pressures that Hawaiiâs visitor industry has had to face.ä

Others in Hawaiiâs tourism industry agreed.

ãI think Tony has done a good job for the bureau and led them through some difficult and challenging times,ä said Murray Towill, president of the Hawaii Hotel Association. ãSetting aside all the audit issues and discussions, they have been very successful in marketing Hawaii and helping us recover from the tragedy of September 11th.ä

Towill wouldnât comment on whether he agreed with the resignation, only saying, ãclearly there was a lot of turmoil and a lot of questions being asked about the bureau.ä

Les Enderton, executive director of the Oahu Visitors Bureau, will serve as interim president.

A search committee will be formed and hopefully name a new president and CEO within the next 90 days, HVCB said.