HTA's Rex Johnson Resigns

Rex Johnson has resigned as CEO of the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA), the organization announced last week. He stepped down after several months of contention for viewing and forwarding offensive e-mails from his government-owned computer.

"At this point, certain accusations have made Rex a lightning rod for controversy," HTA Board Chair Kelvin Bloom said in a prepared statement. "This has become a distraction to the effectiveness of the HTA and we respect his decision."

Johnson, who was found with pornographic and racist material in his government-hosted e-mail account this spring, was the subject of a special meeting last week of the HTA board of directors, who met with him on Oct. 8 behind closed doors in order to decide whether or not to fire him.

Prior to that meeting, the HTA board heard 90 minutes worth of testimony from Johnson's supporters as well as his critics, reports local business journal Pacific Business News. According to the paper, 14 people—including former Hawaii Gov. John Waihee and Murray Towill, president of the Hawaii Hotel and Lodging Association—vouched for Johnson and recommended that he keep his job. Four people, meanwhile, suggested that Johnson be terminated.

In August, after an initial wave of controversy, the HTA board decided to retain Johnson as CEO, but with a reduced salary and a shortened employment contract. They decided to revisit their decision last month, however, when Johnson's contentious e-mails—which included derogatory "jokes" about presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama—were made public.

"I want to thank the tourism industry leadership, community, staff and friends who have shown me so much support," Johnson said in a statement. "I intend to support Hawaii's tourism industry in whatever way I can."

According to the HTA board, an interim CEO will be named as soon as possible, and a search committee has already been assembled to find one.