The president and chief executive officer of the Hawai`i Visitors and Convention Bureau resigned yesterday, three weeks after a state audit slammed the private agency for excessive and inappropriate spending. “I have decided that it is in the best interests of our Island communities that I resign,” Tony Vericella said in a statement. “HVCB will be better able to move forward with the essential task of marketing the state of Hawai‘i unimpeded by the issues surrounding the legislative auditors’ report.”
In findings released July 1 (but leaked to the Honolulu Star-Bulletin a week earlier), State Auditor Marion Higa criticized the HVCB for overpaying employees, using state funds to cover personal expenses, and questionable accounting practices. Higa also faulted the Hawai`i Tourism Authority, which oversee’s the state’s contract with the HVCB, for poor oversight.
The audit said as much as $151,000 in state funds may have been spent inappropriately by the HVCB, cited inflated employee reimbursement requests, raised questions about lucrative contracts and severance packages, and noted that eight employees were drawing annual salaries ranging from $90,000 to $200,000.
As to Vericella, the audit said he charged $670 in personal expenses to the agency, covering items like parking and speeding tickets, travel expenses for his family, and in-room movies during hotel stays on the Mainland. Vericella subsequently issued a public apology and reimbursed the HVCB.
Lawmakers, HTA officials and the governor’s office are asking the Attorney General to look into the audit’s findings.
The HVCB has meanwhile issued a detailed response (PDF) to the audit, and HVCB Chairman Tony Guerrero called on the Legislature to look into how the media illegally received a confidential draft.
Vericella was appointed to the post in October 1997. A Pennsylvania native, he worked with Western Airlines and Continental Airlines before coming to Hawai`i in 1983 to join Hawaiian Airlines. He later worked for American Express Travel and Budget Rent A Car.
O‘ahu Visitors Bureau Executive Director Les Enderton will serve as Interim President as the HVCB launches a search for Vericella’s successor. The agency hopes to select a replacement within 90 days.