As he has in recent years, Mayor Billy Kenoi spent on average one day a week someplace other than in the county he governs.
The mayor, in the 12 months ending April 1, was off-island on county business 52 days, racking up $13,968.87 in taxpayer-paid travel expenses, according to a Stephens Media Hawaii analysis of county credit card transactions provided by the county Department of Finance.
That compares to 53 days in the previous year, 66 days the year before that and 56 days in 2010. In 2009, Kenoi’s first year in office, he was gone 94 days — more than 25 percent of the time.
Two University of Hawaii professors contacted by the newspaper to help put the mayor’s travel record in perspective were not in complete agreement about how much travel is too much.
“That’s pretty high,” said Colin Moore, assistant professor of political science at University of Hawaii at Manoa. “I guess it just depends on what the mayor sees his job as.”
Todd Belt, professor and chairman of the University of Hawaii at Hilo Political Science Department, said travel is a necessary part of the job of governing a remote island.
“It is certainly part of his job,” Belt said. “He’s doing the business of the county and it’s generating revenue for the county.”
Moore said the mayor could see his job more as an advocate than an administrator.
“I think I’m both,” said Kenoi.
Kenoi said he sees three major aspects of his job: administrator, advocate and community leader. He said it’s equally as important that he administers county government by meeting with department heads to ensure the county functions on time and on budget, advocates in Honolulu and on the mainland for county priorities and remains a key part of the community by attending functions and meeting with residents. In addition, he said, he tries to spend time with his family.
“We try to be very strategic,” Kenoi said. “I think we’ve struck a good balance.”
Since taking office in 2008, Kenoi has spent $122,548 on taxpayer-paid travel, according to records.
He said travel remains a priority as he advocates for county resources from state and federal government. This past legislative session, fighting for the county’s share of the transient accommodations tax in the Legislature and “advocating for the county to just get its fair share,” were priorities, he said.
In addition, Kenoi spent time with the Board of Land and Natural Resources to discuss the struggling Naniloa hotel and the county taking over management of the Mauna Kea State Recreation Area.
As usual, Kenoi went to Washington, D.C., in January to attend the U.S. Conference of Mayors Winter Meeting.
Last November, he was in Boston at a Financial &Insurance Conference Planners event. It was money well-spent, Kenoi said. The planners group — composed of event planners for major financial and insurance companies — has scheduled its annual conference for this November in Waikoloa.
“It’s important to have a personal connection,” Belt said. “We are so far away personally and psychologically for many people, so he’s got to show face.”
Kenoi said the FICP project was one his administration, the Big Island Visitors Bureau and the Kohala Coast Resort Association worked on for three years
“Our goal was to get these financial planners here,” Kenoi said, “and we succeeded in doing that.”
Ultimately, noted Moore, the mayor’s style of governing is up to the voters. If they like what he’s doing, obviously they will continue supporting his efforts.
“It’s up to the voters to decide,” Moore said. “If the day-to-day administration starts falling apart, then he should be around more.”
Email Nancy Cook Lauer at firstname.lastname@example.org.