The Hawaii Tourism Authority is looking for a new director of cultural affairs after dismissing a woman approaching her decade anniversary there.
Native Hawaiian Keli’i Wilson built the organization’s cultural program and was dismissed in a letter delivered to her by hand Jan. 8, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser reported.
Wilson said she and the tourism authority’s new executive team have fundamentally different values for the cultural initiative.
“I hope that the HTA board will help to guide the agency back to the right place,” she said. “There are many platforms to do meaningful work, and I will definitely continue in my efforts to contribute to Hawaii.”
George Szigeti became president and CEO of the authority in May. Since then, five positions have been eliminated to meet a $1.3 million administrative cap and a brand manager resigned.
Szigeti says Wilson’s dismissal was a personnel issue unrelated to the previous restructuring.
“We have a strong, strong record of supporting Hawaiian culture, and filling this position will be a high priority,” he said.
He said the organization will hire Hawaii staffing specialists Bishop & Company to oversee the search for Wilson’s replacement.
Aaron J. Sala resigned his position as the authority’s board chairman not long after Szigeti took on his new leadership role.
“One of the major architects of Hawaii’s visitor industry has been dismissed in such a manner that is indicative of a severe lack of integrity on the part of the authority’s executive management,” he said.
Native Hawaiian advocate Vicky Holt Takamine said Wilson strengthened the relationship between the authority and community.
“Whoever replaces Keli’i Wilson will have very big shoes to fill and will have to start all over, gaining the respect and trust of the people Keli’i represented — her people,” Takamine said.