EXCLUSIVE: Impeachment talk targets Kenoi - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

EXCLUSIVE: Impeachment talk targets Kenoi

Mayor Billy Kenoi Mayor Billy Kenoi
HILO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) -

Former Big Island Mayor Harry Kim said a government official called him Tuesday morning and asked him if he'd sign an impeachment petition against current Mayor Billy Kenoi, who has apologized for improperly charging more than $30,000 in personal expenses on a county credit card.

Kim would not identify the person who called him, but said he thought it was premature to join an impeachment effort against his former protégé when Attorney General Doug Chin just launched an investigation.

"He (Chin) has made the public announcement that he will proceed and I will put my trust in that. If there is wrongdoing, he will find, if there is not, he will find," Kim said. “I do put my faith in government. I know that's not a right time to say it because of what we're talking about, but I still do."

Former Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle -- who spent 14 years as city prosecutor -- considers Kenoi a friend but describes his actions as: "Repulsive. This is not what people should be in government for. "

When Hawaii News Now asked Carlisle if Kenoi should resign, Carlisle said, "Yes."

Carlisle reviewed the Hawaii County Charter that said 25 percent of Big Island voters would have to sign a petition for a recall election to get on the ballot and then 50 percent of the voters from the last election would have to vote in a recall election for it to be valid.

"You've got a hurdle where you've got to get this number of people out and if you don't get that many people out, then, boom, there is no recall," Carlisle said.

An impeachment effort of Kenoi would be much less difficult, Carlisle said, since it only requires two percent of the registered voters from the last election -- about 2,100 -- to sign an impeachment petition.

"This looks like there may be a more easy route to go by impeachment," Carlisle said.

Then a single state judge would decide whether he should be removed from office for "malfeasance, misfeasance, nonfeasance or maladministration," according to the Hawaii County Charter.

And there'd be an easier burden of proof than in a criminal case.

"So we now know it's not proof beyond a reasonable doubt, we now know it's a preponderance of the evidence," Carlisle said, since the rules of evidence would follow civil cases.

Big Island voters had mixed reactions about whether they'd sign an impeachment petition against Kenoi.

Jessica Santos of Papaikou said she would.

"Why should he get all the breaks?" Santos asked.

Others, such as Maureen Vegas of Hamakua, said she would not be willing to back an impeachment effort right now.

"I would be undecided about that until I would hear more about what they found out, why he did that. I don't think that it should excuse him, but I cannot say whether I would or would not sign it today," Vegas said.

But Rey Martin of Hawaiian Acres adamantly defended Kenoi and said he would oppose any effort to impeach him.

"He's a good guy. He really takes care of the people of Hawaii and Hilo," Martin said.

Chin, the attorney general, said Tuesday he had begun an investigation of Kenoi's spending on his county-issued purchasing card, known as a PCard.

Facts learned during the course of the investigation will determine whether the Attorney General's office pursues or recommends criminal charges, administrative discipline or no further action, the AG's office said in a news release.

In a statement, Kenoi said, “"I respect the decision by the Department of the Attorney General, and will cooperate fully as the process unfolds. I remain committed to the people of Hawaii Island and to my responsibilities as mayor. I deeply regret the pain that this investigation will cause to my family and to the fine people of our community. I do not anticipate making further public statements regarding this matter.”

The last impeachment effort in recent memory happened on Oahu in 2002 against then-Councilwoman Rene Mansho.

When Mansho was found guilty of using city staff and resources for her campaign and non-city functions, she resigned from office to go to prison, so the impeachment effort was rendered moot.

Honolulu's City Charter said Oahu's mayor can be impeached for malfeasance and the State Supreme Court will serve as a “board of impeachment.” The charges must be laid out in writing in a petition signed by at least 5,000 registered Oahu voters, the charter said. The high court can appoint a master to investigate the charge and report back to them. If the panel sustains the charge, the mayor would be removed from office.

View Kenoi's full statements below:

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