Honolulu Transit Administration to Discontinue Promotional Product Use Following Political Pressure
Following a series of attacks by local politicians, the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) will no longer use promotional products to educate citizens about the city's planned rail transit project. Dan Grabauskas, newly elected CEO of HART, announced that the organization will stop distributing T-shirts, hats, coloring books and other items promoting the project.
"There are going to be no more coloring books. Period," said Grabauskas, according to Hawaii Reporter. "I gave instructions yesterday to staff that we are to produce nothing that is not related to the construction of this project. Public information is going to be necessary, safety around construction, that kind of stuff, we're going to spend money, but no coloring books are going to be produced on my watch."
The mention of coloring books is a reference to criticism from former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano, who called the promotional products "an abuse of taxpayer money" in March. Cayetano, who is against the development of the controversial $5.3 billion rail system, is running for mayor of Honolulu and has made his opposition to HART's program central to his campaign, characterizing expenditures from the transportation authority as wasteful.
After Cayetano's comments were published in Promo Marketing, Paul Bellantone, CAE, president and CEO of PPAI, issued a letter to the former governor on behalf of ad specialty businesses highlighting the importance of the industry to the economy and the effectiveness of promotional products as a marketing medium. "The promotional products industry plays an important role in the Hawaiian economy—collectively the industry provides $6.97 million annually and much needed small-business based jobs," he wrote.
Bellantone continued, "Promotional products and the messages they carry help national, state, county and local governments to keep their citizens informed and well prepared by providing essential public service information in a timely and reliable manner through the best communications medium possible—promotional products."
Grabauskas was elected as the administration's CEO on April 9, in a 10-0 vote, replacing interim director Toru Hamayasu. Hamayasu had been criticized by Cayetano and others for how he was using the funds for the project, including HART's marketing budget. The new executive director, who has made promises of transparency and conservatively using the public's money, will become the city's highest-paid employee with salary plus bonuses totaling $322,000.
Honolulu's mayoral election is scheduled for November 6, 2012. Hawaii Reporter indicated that if Cayetano wins, the Honolulu Rail Transit project may be scrapped. Grabauskas said he is unsure whether construction will proceed, as either a pending lawsuit or Cayetano victory could halt the HART program.