Taxpayers paid nearly $34K for mayor’s travel
‘It’s part of the job,’ county spokesman says of 34 trips in ’16
Mayor Alan Arakawa took 34 county-funded trips costing about $33,800 in 2016, according to information from the Mayor’s Office provided to The Maui News on Wednesday.
Arakawa made 29 interisland trips — including 22 to Honolulu — two trips to the U.S. Mainland and three to Asia for events that included energy summits, meetings with lawmakers and festivals with sister cities in South Korea and Japan.
Here’s a look at the mayor’s travels in 2016:
The longest and most expensive trip the mayor took in 2016 was a 23-day, $7,785.81 journey to South Korea and Japan to attend the Goyang Flower Festival, various meetings in Tokyo and the Fukuyama Rose Festival from April 24 to May 16. The trips were made to visit some of Maui County’s two-dozen sister cities, an international program that began in 1956 to foster relationships between communities.
“They visit us and come to our events, and then they invite the mayor to go there,” county spokesman Rod Antone said.
Because of the mayor’s past comments supporting renewable energy and Hawaii’s push toward a fossil-free future, Arakawa is sometimes invited to local and international energy events, Antone said.
For example, from June 11 to 15, Arakawa was in Pingtung County, Taiwan, for the Resilient County International Forum, where he was a guest speaker and presenter. The conference reimbursed the county for the $2,180.03 round-trip airfare.
Arakawa’s third and final trip to Asia in 2016 was a visit to Tokyo and Okinawa from Oct. 21 to 31. It was his second most costly trip of the year at $5,753.70. There, he met with government and Hitachi officials to discuss expanding the JUMPSmart Maui renewable energy and electrical vehicle program. The Japanese company helped develop JUMPSmart on Maui.
Arakawa also was invited to attend the sixth Worldwide Uchinanchu Festival in Okinawa.
The bulk of the mayor’s trips in 2016 were to Honolulu. He visited the capital city 22 times at a total cost of $12,739.26.
Arakawa went to Honolulu from Jan. 18 to 25 for the start of the legislative session, his first trip of the year and his most costly to Oahu at $2,239.13. During the visit, Arakawa talked with lawmakers, including the chairpersons of the House Finance and Senate Ways and Means committees. He also met with the Hawaii Council of Mayors and stayed for Gov. David Ige’s State of the State address.
Most of the mayor’s visits to Honolulu bridged multiple purposes. His trips included three meetings with Alexander & Baldwin on plans for Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co.’s agricultural lands, nine interviews with Hawaii News Now and a celebration for Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during his historic visit to Pearl Harbor in December.
Arakawa’s longest trip to Oahu was a 12-day visit that included meeting with the state on the Lahaina Civic Center lease and attending the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Conservation Congress, which was held in the United States for the first time last year. The Aug. 30 to Sept. 10 trip cost $2,159.64.
Not counting Oahu, Arakawa made seven other interisland visits, including:
• Two trips to Molokai for a site inspection, annual Employee Recognition Lunch and budget meeting, costing $396.99.
• Two trips to Lanai for a blessing of the Four Seasons Resort, annual Employee Recognition Lunch and budget meeting, costing $190.
• Two trips to Hawaii Island for a Hawaii Island Sustainability Forum and Hawaii County inaugural ceremonies, costing $516.79.
• One trip to Kauai for Mayor Bernard Carvalho’s State of the County address, costing $275.60.
When the mayor is gone, Managing Director Keith Regan serves as acting mayor. Most of Arakawa’s travels didn’t coincide with any major emergencies, save for an Aug. 30 to Sept. 10 trip to Honolulu around the time that Hurricane Lester was approaching. It eventually passed the islands with little damage. Antone said Arakawa’s absences last year didn’t interrupt county business much.
“We’ve gone through so many of these hurricane warnings and tropical storm warnings . . . Keith is as well-versed as anyone out there on how to run the county,” Antone said. “We have a good team here, and we’ve had plenty of practice.”
As for trips to Honolulu and Molokai that the mayor took shortly after massive flooding in Iao in mid-September, Antone said the county was already doing repairs and “had things well in hand” by the time the mayor left.
Arakawa’s two visits to the U.S. Mainland began with a trip to the East Coast from June 5 to 11, which cost $4,101.59.
The mayor stopped in Washington, D.C., for a Hawaii on the Hill event, which brings together Hawaii businesses and politicians at the county, state and federal levels. Arakawa also traveled north to greet crew members of the Hokule’a voyaging canoe as they arrived in New York.
From Aug. 24 to 28, Arakawa was in Berkeley, Calif., for a Mayors’ Innovation Project Summer Meeting, a conference that covered topics ranging from recycling to urban design to city parking policies. That trip totaled $2,014.03.
“It’s part of the job,” Antone said of Arakawa’s travels. “Some of these, if you don’t go, people ask where you are. (Hawaii) on the Hill is a chance to meet with our congressional delegates and fight for federal monies. Some of these, I would say, he would be negligent if he didn’t go.”
But is it negligent for the mayor to be away on these trips?
“The mayor has canceled trips before when there’s something going on on Maui that he really needs to deal with,” Antone said, adding that “when he’s on Maui, he doesn’t stop being the mayor on Saturday and Sunday. He’s everywhere meeting with every group.”
All told, the mayor traveled 113 days of the year in 2016. He was gone the most during May and June (18 days each), September (14 days) and October (15 days). Arakawa’s wife, Ann, often travels with the mayor, but the county doesn’t pay for her trips, Antone said.
* Colleen Uechi can be reached at email@example.com.