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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, August 11, 2008

HTA must weigh gaffe against chief's service

Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Rex Johnson

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Rex Johnson, Hawai'i Tourism Authority chief, should face some consequence for the lapse in judgment leading him to misuse government e-mail.

But the right consequence for this particular misstep lies somewhere between getting off scot free and the draconian response of demanding Johnson's resignation.

The offense was his decision to forward adult-oriented e-mail that came into his government inbox to friends, with whom he often shares jokes.

It was clearly wrong, and Johnson admits his mistake. But unless the evidence shows this was habitual the rule, rather than the exception there should be a way back from such an error.

The authority's board of directors, which hired Johnson, has avoided making a snap decision, and that's commendable. Tomorrow the board's administrative committee will make its recommendation to the full board, which will decide in executive session how to proceed.

Four years ago the state developed a policy to direct its employees in the correct use of information technology, including state e-mail.

That 13-page document includes a clear prohibition on the transmission of information that is inappopriate, including "offensive material" of a sexual nature.

But there's no clear template to use for gauging which penalties to impose. Violations "may result in immediate revocation or curtailment of computer usage, disciplinary action that may include discharge from employment, and/or civil and criminal liability."

In short, punishment is entirely discretionary.

The policy itself permits "incidental and minimal" personal use of resources if it does not interfere with job duties and "does not cause harm or embarassment to the state."

Undeniably, the state is embarrassed by this. But the board needs to assess whether these extracurricular activities actually obstructed Johnson's performance in the development of, and advocacy for, tourism.

Information that's circulated so far suggests that they haven't, although only the board has full details of the case, which are being discussed in a closed, executive session.

Ultimately, the board needs to settle this issue expeditiously, and return the HTA's full focus to charting a successful course through the difficult waters of the current tourism slump.