Tourism authority chairman withdraws from confirmation fight

Updated: May. 3, 2018 at 3:46 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The chairman of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, prominent personal injury attorney Rick Fried, suddenly withdrew his bid for a second term on the board Thursday ahead of a potentially contentious debate over his confirmation in the state Senate.

Senators were split on the re-nomination of Fried.

A committee report on his confirmation pointed out that the Senate Tourism Committee voted 2-2 on whether he should receive the committee's positive recommendation for confirmation.

The report, authored by Tourism Committee Chairman Glenn Wakai, said Fried's legal expertise had been valuable to the HTA board.

But, it added, "Your Committee has serious concerns regarding the transparency of the board under Mr. Fried's leadership and questions his openness to sharing information with the Legislature."

Lawmakers were frustrated by HTA's reluctance to provide financial details they'd requested and the state auditor issued a report that criticized HTA executives for inappropriate spending on things like first-class air and lodging expenses.

There was also a concern that HTA had failed to woo a mixed martial arts event that could have featured Hawaii champion Max Holloway, and that HTA was not doing enough to address residents' concerns about the impact of millions of visitors on state resources.

Fried said he chose to withdraw because "I didn't want myself to be a distraction."

Fried said HTA had been tremendously successful at building tourism and will be essential in supporting the industry during inevitable downturns. He added that he will serve out the rest of his term, which ends June 30.

A brief statement from the office Gov. David Ige, who nominated Fried even though he was originally appointed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, said: "The governor appreciates the dedication and hard work by Rick and the other volunteer members of the HTA board, which is overseeing record growth of Hawai'i's tourism economy."

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