Former state official draws heat from Native Hawaiian leaders for abrupt contract cancellation

At stake is a $40 million deal that would have a native Hawaiian non-profit share the work with long-time marketing agency.
Published: Dec. 7, 2022 at 8:40 PM HST|Updated: Dec. 7, 2022 at 8:41 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The multi-million dollar debate over marketing and managing Hawaii tourism heated up Wednesday evening, as Native Hawaiians accused a former state official of insulting their culture and unfairly robbing a Hawaiian organization of a valuable contract.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority held an emergency meeting with its $34 million contract in limbo.

The board primarily called the meeting to hear from Gov. Josh Green and former Director of Economic Development and Tourism Mike McCartney, but the meeting quickly turned into an airing of frustration by supporters of the Council for Native Hawaiian Advancement, which had its contract award canceled.

Activist DeMont Conner asked, “Why is it when Native Hawaiians come to the plate and get funding — all of a sudden everybody else and their mother like complain how come Hawaiians getting that action?”

The contract has been through two rounds of procurement.

The first won by long time marketing contractor Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau, the second round was won by CNHA after it protested the HVCB award, then HVCB challenged the second award.

McCartney explained that he brought the two competitors together and they found common ground in sharing the complex contract, but decided it had to be cancelled Monday because it could not be legally divided.

“I believe you cannot do that and change the contract when it is still in active process,” McCartney said. “That would be unfair to others...others who may want to compete.”

Governor Green pledged to bring the parties back together quickly.

“I feel they will complement each other very well one way or another,” Green said. “But it’s important that we do things right.”

The governor hoped to avoid rebidding the contracts a third time but said McCartney’s decision to cancel the CNHA award may have made that impossible although he is waiting for advice from the attorney general and new economic development director.

“We are going to play with the hand we are dealt,” Green said, expressing hope that a rebid could be accomplished before the current extended contracts, held by HVCB, expire at the end of March.

McCartney seemed to speak directly to the Native Hawaiians present, describing of his relationships and respect for native Hawaii leaders, even holding up a series of books, one written by respected Hawaiian professor Hanuani K. Trask, which drew a gasp from the audience and rebuke from cultural consultant Trisha Kehaulani Watson.

“It was quite frankly one of the most insulting things I have ever had to listen to,” Watson said.

“Don’t talk to us and invoke our kupuna and stab us in the face at the same time.”

Watson pointed out that McCartney still has not described any fault or irregularity in the procurement process that could make CNHA ineligible.

Critics of CNHA have complained that marketing tourism is a complex role that requires experience they say CNHA doesn’t have.

Watson and others demanded that the board reverse McCartney’s decision and reinstate the contract.

But with CNHA’s protest filed late last night, HTA CEO John De Fries said the legal situation was too clouded to make any immediate decisions.