HTA Plans Meeting to Rethink Rex Johnson's Fate

After officially announcing last month that it would retain Rex Johnson as its president and CEO, the board of the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) has decided to hold a special meeting on Oct. 2 in order to reexamine its decision in light of new information.

Johnson, who has been at the helm of the HTA since 2002, was found with pornographic and racist material in his government-hosted e-mail account this spring, prompting state tourism officials to debate his future as executive director. Following a series of meetings this summer, however, the HTA board ultimately decided to retain Johnson as its chief executive, sanctioning him with a reduced salary and a shortened employment contract but refusing to terminate him.

Still, pressure is building for the HTA to change its mind, according to Honolulu's Pacific Business News, as local newspaper The Honolulu Advertiser has obtained copies of some of Johnson's controversial e-mails, which it's described as containing offensive "jokes" about Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

In light of the new information—HTA board members say they hadn't seen Johnson's actual e-mails prior to making their decision—Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle has called on Johnson to resign or be fired. Meanwhile, several community groups—including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Japanese American Citizens League of Hawaii and the Hawaii Women's Political Caucus—held a joint news conference last week chastising HTA for its lack of swift action; they've planned a protest march against Johnson in Waikiki this weekend.

"We cannot stand by and allow the Hawaii Tourism Authority to give credibility to what Mr. Johnson has been circulating," Hawaii NAACP Branch President Alphonso Braggs told Pacific Business News.

In response to local calls for action, the HTA board announced a Sept. 29 meeting last week, which it has since rescheduled for Oct. 2. The only item on the agenda, Pacific Business News reports: "Discussion and/or action regarding the employment agreement with Rex Johnson."