HONOLULU – The Hawaii Tourism Authority said Tuesday it will pay its disgraced former president Rex Johnson over $290,000.
The money includes what the agency called a "resignation payment" and money for unused vacation time.
Johnson resigned last month after coming under fire for forwarding racist, sexist and pornographic e-mails to friends from his government computer.
Kelvin Bloom, the agency's board chair, said the board agreed to the payment to avoid the possibility of a lawsuit. The amount is equivalent to what Johnson would have been paid if the board had fired him without cause, Bloom said.
"The board did consider the alternative of potential litigation and the fees and costs associated with that," Bloom said. "On balance, the board believed this was a reasonable compromise."
The board was also concerned about an ongoing dispute with Johnson over his pay distracting the agency from its work promoting travel to Hawaii.
Over $208,000 of the total is the balance of Johnson's amended base salary through August 2009.
The remainder covers more than $83,000 for unused vacation days Johnson accrued at the agency.
Johnson was one of the highest paid and most powerful state employees with a four-year contract worth $240,000 annually — more than double the salary of Gov. Linda Lingle.
His troubles began after a state audit found 23 pornographic e-mails on his government computer. That led the board to reprimand Johnson, cut his salary to $200,000, and shrink the term of his contract to one year from four years.
Then, about a month later, it became known Johnson had also received and forwarded e-mails with racist and sexist jokes from his government computer. One e-mail from March 22 referred to Sen. Barack Obama as "coon" and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton as "beaver."
Gov. Linda Lingle, civil rights groups and others swiftly demanded Johnson's ouster.
The agency's board accepted Johnson's resignation on Oct. 8, saying the accusations made him a lightning rod for controversy and had become a distraction for the agency.
The agency is tasked with marketing and promoting Hawaii to the world.
It is solely funded by the 7.25 percent transient accommodations tax imposed on hotel rooms and rental contracts lasting less than 180 days. The agency received about one-third of the $224.9 million in transient accommodations tax revenues the state collected last year, with the rest going to Hawaii's four counties and a convention center enterprise fund.