Lawmakers shocked HTA head asked to resign

Rex Johnson
Rex Johnson

By Diane Ako - bio | email and Taires Hiranaka

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Shock and surprise. That's how many across the state are reacting tonight to word of potential wrongdoing at the Hawaii Tourism Authority. Earlier this week, two members of HTA'S board of directors asked president Rex Johnson to step down, after adult material was allegedly found in his work e mail. "It was a huge error in judgment on my part. Bad mistake. I will abide by the board's decision on all matters," says Johnson via a phone interview.

The state's top tourism officer won praise for his handling of recent crises like the closure of Aloha airlines, the pullout of cruise ships, and a national recession that's hit Hawaii's economy hard. State Rep. Ryan Yamane (D- Waipahu, Mililani), chair of the House tourism and culture committee, is concerned. "During this most critical time in our industry, the board has asked the president and CEO to resign. If there is enough valid reason to do that that's their kuleana (business) but we'd like to know what's the plan on what's going to happen if we change the president and CEO."

Industry insiders say Johnson has a good reputation. Yamane agrees, though he also says Johnson should be reprimanded. "I was very surprised. Mr. Johnson has been very involved with tourism keeping us informed at the capitol for many years. He's moved the HTA in a direction of being a leader in the industry and responded to crises that we could have never expected."

It's a story Yamane will be watching closely, and he says everyone who benefits from the tourism industry should care, too. "As our tourism declines this is not a robust time of our economic situation. We rely heavily on tourism, and to change the CEO suddenly is going to have an effect."

The HTA board scheduled an executive session regarding Johnson on Wednesday afternoon.