September 18, 2008

Editor  FYI

Re:  Mr. Rex Johnson.

Today Governor Linda Lingle, State Representative Calvin Say, and Senate President Colleen Hanabusa declined a request by the public to view a letter issued to them on June 25, 2008, by State Auditor Marion Higa, that advised them of the presence of distasteful emails on Mr. Rex Johnsonís official email account, as well as other improprieties.

We were motivated to make our request for the letter because we were suspicious of the reasons for Governor Lingleís strong statements suggesting that Mr. Johnson should resign from his position as Director of the Hawaii Tourism Authority.  We felt the governor only made the statements after she learned the Honolulu Advertiser was going to make the presence of emails containing racist and bigoted contents public, and this would arouse the publicís suspicion about the thoroughness of the Governor and Boardís review  that only acknowledged the presence of emails with sexual content, not racist and bigoted content.  Also, like Governor Lingle,  Calvin Say and Colleen Hanabusa withheld information and documents when they should have disclosed them to the public.  Instead, they only spoke publicly about the sexual content of the emails, not about the racial and bigoted content.    

We contacted the State Auditorís office to request an interview with Ms. Higa and obtain any documents she provided to the Governor with the understanding that it is a statutory requirement that the Auditor formally notify the governor of improprieties found during audits.  Our request to interview Ms. Higa was denied, but we were advised that a letter, dated June 25, 2008, was sent to Governor Lingle that detailed the presence of the emails and other improprieties committed by Mr. Johnson.

We filed a request with the governorís office to obtain a copy of the letter, and also requested an opportunity to speak with Governor Lingle or Russell Pang, her public information officer.  Our requests were denied.  We also visited and telephoned her office, but the public information officer refused to speak with us or return our phone calls.

We learned that the state auditor also provided a copy of the June 25, 2008, letter to Representative Calvin Say and Senate President Colleen Hannabusa.  Mr. Sayís office would not talk to us or return our calls.  Senate President Colleen Hanabusa refused to provide a copy of the letter, and her staff advised that the letter was confidential.  Later in the day Ms. Hanabusaís office sent me an email advising that the letter was confidential but she would consult with the Attorney Generalís office.  We also sent questions to the entire board regarding this matter, but they, too, refused to provide answers to our questions.

We believe the June 25, 2008 letter should be made public, and the only reason they are refusing to release the letter is that they donít want to let the public know that they covered up the fact that Johnsonís emails contained racist and bigoted material, in addition to the sexual content.

We received copies of the Mr. Johnsonís emails.  The HTAB has already publicly disclosed the improprieties committed by Mr. Johnson and the specific punishment issued to him.  Therefore, if the June 25 letter detailing the violation was relied upon to determine the punishment,  we believe the letter is not confidential and should be released.   Withholding the letter only serves to exacerbate a breach of public trust and gives the state an image that its leaders shield horrible acts of racism and bigotry.

While we donít know the exact content of the letter, releasing it to the public would be better than allowing the public to come to their own conclusions, particularly that bigotry and racism are being tolerated and concealed by our governor and legislators.

Carroll Cox