HILO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - Hawaii Island Mayor Billy Kenoi is responding to critics who say he has been noticeably absent from public service since allegations of county credit card abuse surfaced eight months ago.
In a one-on-one interview with Hawaii News Now on Wednesday, Kenoi said he's not only working as much as he used to, he's working harder -- even if no one sees what's going on behind the scenes.
Still, it's hard to miss Kenoi's absence from public life -- and that has some constituents concerned.
In the first six years of his administration, Kenoi was seemingly everywhere. Front and center.
Constituents say that's no longer the case.
And they question why he hasn't been publicly involved on major Hawaii Island issues, like 15 near-miss hurricanes this year and the controversial Thirty-Meter Telescope project on Mauna Kea.
Hawaii Island residents say one of Kenoi's most glaring absences was last week's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention news conference on dengue fever.
When asked why he hasn't played a bigger role in addressing the outbreak, the largest in the state's history, Kenoi said he is involved.
He didn't think it was necessary to be at the CDC news conference, he added.
"I'm engaged and involved with the community directly. I'm engaged with my entire team. I'm engaged with all of the leadership. I've been in the community," he said.
Kenoi said he'd tell constituents asking about his whereabouts that he's never stopped working for the county.
"I think we've done a great job. We have a great team of people. I represent the county in community meetings. I have gone before the council on multiple opportunities. In the last six months, we've passed our budget."
He added, "I'm still serving as the chief executive. I have regular meetings in the county of Hawaii. When people call and need our leadership, our attention, our support – I've been present. My team has been present."
Constituents tell a different story. They say the mayor that used to be everywhere is near impossible to find these days.
Kenoi, though, said the first time he's heard about concerns on his whereabouts was from Hawaii News Now.
And he bristled at the suggestion he has failed to meet his responsibilities as mayor -- or that he's just biding his time until the state's investigation into his county credit card use is complete.
"I'll leave it at this as a final answer -- I stand by the work of this administration," he said.
"I think that everybody I know and see on island knows that we're a very active and engaged administration. Every single decision that is made in the county of Hawaii has to come through me as the chief executive -- every department. There's not a single issue on the island of Hawaii that doesn't receive my personal attention and engaged decision making."
The state's investigation into Kenoi's credit card use has no timeframe, but it could lead to criminal charges, administrative discipline or no action. Kenoi has not been charged with a crime.