Liquor Commission set to discuss several hot-button issues

Today’s meeting to include nonprofit event applications

The Maui County Liquor Control Commission is poised to address several hot-button issues today, including streamlining single-event liquor license applications for nonprofits and conducting its first review and evaluation of Liquor Director Glenn Mukai.

The meeting begins at 9 a.m. today at the Department of Liquor Control Conference Room at the David K. Trask Jr. Building in Wailuku. A public hearing involving easing the application process for nonprofit single-event liquor licenses will be held at 10 a.m. Action could be taken at the end of the hearing.

Review of the liquor director’s performance could be done in a closed, executive session. The review is on the agenda for later in the day. Mukai was appointed to the job by the commission in May 2016. During his short tenure at the helm, the community has complained about his department’s interpretation and enforcement of liquor rules and laws.

For example, the department has defended a change of rules to allow 24-hour sales of retail alcohol and removing a cap of 12 hostess bars in the county. The commission adopted the changes in February, but it reversed itself in July after a public outcry and a lawsuit was filed. The blackout of retail sales of alcohol from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. was restored, but the removal of the 12-hostess-bar limit remains in effect.

Liquor Control Commission Chairman Bob Tanaka has supported Mukai. At a past meeting, he said of Mukai that “he’s not doing anything wrong.”

Another issue causing a public uproar deals with the public hearing matter on today’s agenda.

The county Department of Liquor Control is the only such department in the state that has chosen to enforce stringent requirements, including background checks and finger-printing, when nonprofits apply for Class 10 special licenses. Those are issued to nonprofit organizations holding events along with political parties and candidates seeking public office. An official at the state Department of the Attorney General told The Maui News several months ago that the counties have the authority to impose the checks, but they’re not required by state law.

Last month, Maui County Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura proposed changes to ease those requirements. The Liquor Department also proposed streamlining the process after hearing from the public and nonprofits urging more leniency. Some nonprofits have canceled their fundraising events and lost thousands of dollars because of the stringent requirements.

The commission debated over both proposals last month in executive session and eventually agreed to review both of them at today’s meeting.

Both proposals — those from Sugimura and the department — exempt Class 10 license applicants from provisions that limit the amount of liquor that can be offered, sold or served during a set period of time, or a fixed price. The exemption would allow nonprofits to collect an entrance fee to events such as wine pairing without having to charge patrons for additional drinks.

The proposed amendments can be found at www.mauicounty.gov/liquor. Select the Rules/Laws tab.

Also on the agenda is a review and discussion of a petition letter by Lisa Paulson, executive director of the Maui Hotel and Lodging Association. On Tuesday, she said she is trying to get back some leeway for alcohol sales at hotels that were lost when the commission reversed itself on many of its decisions in July.

Paulson said that back on the books is a blackout of two hours from 4 to 6 a.m. that prohibits hotels from selling alcohol.

But she is hoping the commission will allow hotel room service to serve alcohol 24 hours a day. That service is something international guests request, especially at high-end hotels, she said.

Her proposed amendment would not ask for hotel bars to serve alcohol 24 hours a day. She said many hotels do not have bars open at all hours.

Paulson said the commission could take up her petition for a hearing at an upcoming meeting.

Also on the agenda is a presentation by the Department of Corporation Counsel regarding the beginning of a personnel investigation into potential violations of Maui County policies by a Liquor Department employee. There will be discussion and consideration of the appointment of a special investigator, the agenda said. The matter is expected to be heard in executive session.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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