Hawaii Tourism Authority leader leaving amid growing scrutiny

Amid growing scrutiny of Hawaii Tourism Authority, board parts ways with CEO

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The head of the Hawaii Tourism Authority is headed out.

The authority's board voted unanimously Thursday to terminate "without cause" George Szigeti, the authority's president and CEO for the past three years.

"I respect the board's decision that they want to take a new direction, and it was by mutual agreement we said okay, it's termination without cause," Szigeti told Hawaii News Now.

The board stressed that it's not a firing. He'll remain on the job until Oct. 31 and then get six months pay in a lump sum.

"You want to leave the place better than when you walked in, and I hope I've done that," he said.

Szigeti's ouster comes after a rough legislation session for the authority and in the wake of a critical state audit, which criticized spending by HTA executives. In December, the state Ethics Commission fined several of the authority's executives, including Szigeti, for failing to report free travel upgrades.

Szigeti was fined $1,750 for getting courtesy upgrades to business class on Japan Airlines.

HTA also struggled to bring an MMA fight card to Hawaii — something that was widely criticized. But the board and Szigeti said the $6 million asking price was too expensive. They also say they were not factors in the decision.

"None of those items were brought up in my evaluation whatsoever," said Szigeti. "That's why it was an agreement for termination without cause, so none of those were brought up."

"It was difficult," said HTA Board Chair Rick Fried. "It wasn't as though we had any animosity toward George, didn't feel he had done anything unethical."

Fried added, "He's left with a lot of class, but the thinking was we might do better going in a different direction."

Szigeti said he's proud of his accomplishments at the HTA, and praised his staff.

"We've really attained a lot of good things these past three years, with record spending, record arrival, record tax revenue generated back to the state, goes back into our community," he said.

But after attempts in the state senate to cut the agency's budget, Fried said "I think we're going to focus on a more harmonious relationship with the legislature, and also there've been a few of our stakeholders who felt George could have been more responsive."

Fried also said the board will begin work very soon to find Szigeti's successor.

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