May 9 meeting set on liquor rules

Commission deflects public comment on 24/7 alcohol sales to special hearing

Liquor Control Commission Chairman Ro-bert Tanaka explains the commission would not take public testimony Wednesday on the commission’s new rules allowing the retail sale of alcohol without blackout periods. * The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

WAILUKU — The Maui County Liquor Control Commission has tentatively scheduled a special meeting for May 9 to hear public testimony on new liquor rules that allow the retail sale of alcohol 24/7.

The meeting was set in response to numerous law enforcement, youth and substance abuse treatment organizations demanding that the commission repeal its new rules that eliminated the 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. blackout period for retail sales of alcohol. Members of the organizations, which have mobilized as the Coalition to Repeal 24 Hour Alcohol Sales, showed up at the liquor commission meeting Wednesday to oppose the rules.

“I think they need to hear, what they apparently did everything not to hear, the first time around,” Kihei resident Madge Schaefer said. “I’m happy they’re going to have a special meeting.”

The new rules were adopted during the commission’s February meeting and later approved by Mayor Alan Arakawa. Police, several retail store managers and many members of the community interviewed last month were unaware of the new rules, which also included eliminating the two-hour blackout period for hotels to sell alcohol for activities such as room service (but not bars) and the cap on the number of hostess bars in the county. The commission also allowed home delivery of alcohol and bars to open two hours earlier at 6 a.m.

Coalition members tried to testify against the new rules at the commission’s regular monthly meeting Wednesday but were told they couldn’t because the matter was not on the panel’s agenda. The state Sunshine Law requires boards to hear public testimony on every agenda item, but they do not have to hear testimony on nonagenda items.

Mahina Martin, a member of the Coalition to Repeal 24 Hour Alcohol Sales, addresses the liquor commission before the start of its meeting Wednesday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

If a board chooses to listen to nonagenda items, it cannot discuss or consider those concerns until they are properly noticed on the board’s agenda.

Mahina Martin, a founding member of the coalition, asked the commission to be more clear in the future about when public testimony is allowed. She said she was grateful the board decided to hold a special meeting. Martin met with the county Department of Liquor Control and formally requested that the commission reconsider its rule changes last week.

“My concern is that the commission not do this just because they feel they’re obligated to and that they’ll just give the public a chance to vent,” Martin said. “This is not a venting opportunity. This is a time for the community to come out and share their perspective, ask the commissioners, who themselves are members of the community, to hear their side and their concerns and weigh it against what they got, which is a small select group of licensees advocating what would benefit their sector.

“We want them to sincerely hear it.”

Chairman Bob Tanaka said the commission is looking at reconsidering the rule changes. He added that the department is responsible for scheduling and arranging the meeting, as well as notifying the public of when and where it will take place.

“We want to hear the testimony,” Tanaka said. “Too bad they didn’t come to the public hearing to testify against it. That’s why the commissioners felt that nobody was so concerned about it. Now they’re coming back out so we have to rethink the issue.”

The reason the public did not show up may be that the rule changes were not given proper notice. In fact, Schaefer filed a complaint last month with the state Office of Information Practices about the notice on the agenda, and an attorney with the office has said the commission’s agenda appeared to lack sufficient detail to comply with the Sunshine Law.

The line for the rule changes in the Feb. 8 agenda cited only proposed amendments to “Title 08, Chapter 101, Rules Governing the Manufacture, and Sale of Intoxicating Liquor.” It did not say anything specifically about the rule changes.

Coalition members asked that the special meeting be held on a weeknight to allow more members of the public to attend. They also asked that it be held at a different venue with more space and parking than what’s available at the commission’s usual meeting room in the Trask Building in Wailuku.

Liquor Director Glenn Mukai declined to be interviewed after Wednesday’s meeting and did not return a phone call later.

Deputy Director Mark Honda said it would be difficult to host the special meeting at a venue other than the Trask Building because each commissioner and department staffer needs a microphone. He said a court reporter, staff and commissioners, which include those from Molokai and Lanai, would all need to be available as well.

Honda added that the department has disputed the OIP complaint, but he could not comment further because it’s considered a matter in litigation.

He said the department is short-staffed and working on setting up the special meeting next month, as well as other administrative matters. Honda declined to speak further about the rule changes, citing pressing work deadlines.

“We’re all scrambling,” he said. “Both Glenn and I had to man the front office.

“When you have the general and colonel greeting walk-ins, you know you’re short-handed.”

Tanaka said he believed the department followed the Sunshine Law but acknowledged that maybe “a little more” could have been done to publicize the rule changes. The last time the commission made changes was six or seven years ago, he said.

“We were led to believe that this is what they (retail stores) wanted and with the people not coming to testify and nobody mentioned anything against it, we didn’t know what their position was,” he said. “If they had come to testify, maybe the outcome would’ve been different.

“This is a good lesson. Next time when we do it, now we know.”

Mukai has characterized the rule changes as “mostly housekeeping,” and Tanaka said he believed retailers were in favor of 24/7 alcohol sales based on the department’s input and feedback from the department’s Small Business & Advisory Committee. The committee includes representatives from various industries from restaurants to manufacturers, and it works with the department on regulations, licensing and other administrative matters.

However, no one representing retail stores was on the committee, and members did not know where the 24/7 alcohol law originated. Paula Hegele, president of MauiWine in Ulupalakua, said the group did not discuss the 24/7 law, aside from one member mentioning that fishermen wanted to buy alcohol early in the morning before going out to sea.

“That’s unfortunately the only thing we talked about because we stuck very much to how it was affecting our industry,” Hegele said.

She believes the community’s concerns should be heard but noted that the rule changes did not alter existing liquor restrictions, such as prohibiting the sale of alcohol to under-age or visibly drunken people. She noted that the rule changes as a whole have greatly helped wholesalers and hotels.

“It’s great that the conversation comes out and what makes sense for our community and look at it that way,” she said. “I’m sure everyone is open to doing that, and I know the liquor department doesn’t do anything that would endanger anyone.”

Jim Coon, co-owner of Trilogy Excursions and a member of the committee, said he did not know where the 24/7 alcohol law came from and believed “it’s appropriate that it’s reviewed and the right people weigh in on it.”

Wailuku commissioner Nane Aluli supported the special meeting and noted that he was not present at the February meeting and did not vote on the new rules. He did not personally hear support of the 24/7 alcohol law from retail stores and believed the issue needs to be addressed and discussed.

“Honestly, after we hear that, I think we’ll be in a better position to make what the commission feels is the right decision,” Aluli said. “We are essentially servants of the public, and I think it’s important we hear their voice.”

* Chris Sugidono can be reached at csugidono@mauinews.com.


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