Tanaka to continue as liquor board chairman

Maui County Liquor Control Commission Chairman Bob Tanaka (right) shares a laugh with outgoing Vice Chair Darren Lopez during Wednesday’s meeting at the David K. Trask Building in Wailuku. The Maui News / CHRIS SUGIDONO photos

WAILUKU – The Maui County Liquor Commission voted Wednesday to keep longtime member Bob Tanaka as chairman and picked Nane Aluli as vice chair.

The nominations were made by outgoing Vice Chairman Darren Lopez of Lanai with no members in opposition. No other members were nominated.

Lopez’s seat will be filled by Lanai Today newspaper Publisher and Editor Alberta de Jetley at the commission’s next meeting April 11.

“It’s been very exciting, but challenging last year,” Lopez said after the meeting. “I’m optimistic things are going to change. Bob is very knowledgeable and that’s why I went with status quo on him because out of everyone he’s the most knowledgeable of all.

“Nane has a good mind, good heart, and he’s for the people. I trust he’s going to do well.”

Nane Aluli

Tanaka, a retired Wailuku engineer, has served on the commission off and on for the past three decades. His term ends in March 2019. Aluli, who is still in his first term, is vice president and general manager of The Mauian Hotel on Napili Bay.

“I guess they get enough confidence in me to leave me as chair,” Tanaka said. “Nane I think will make a good vice chair and when I’m gone I think he’ll make a good chair.”

“I want to listen more and get more knowledgeable about the responsibility so I can be the best I can be,” Aluli said.

The vote over leadership of the commission follows a tumultuous year that saw two commissioners resign and sharp criticism from residents and nonprofit organizations over major rule changes and more stringent requirements for liquor licenses. Nearly all of the changes, such as allowing 24-hour retail sales of alcohol and criminal background checks of nonprofits, have been reversed due to public pressure after initially being approved by the commission.

Tanaka and the commission also have come under fire for their “above average” review of Liquor Control Director Glenn Mukai, whose department drew the ire of hundreds of residents, community groups, law enforcement and nonprofit officials over the changes last year. Tanaka has repeatedly defended Mukai, who was recently the subject of a violence in the workplace complaint filed by Bill Pacheco, head of the enforcement division.

First Deputy Corporation Counsel Ed Kushi said action was taken by the commission on the complaint after last month’s meeting in executive session, but he could not reveal what took place because it was personnel matter.

Commissioners expressed their desire to keep Tanaka as chairman due to his experience and believe Aluli is an “independent thinker,” who brings a “good balance” to the commission.

“I believe Nane is really good and Bob has been doing it and he seems to do a good job,” Wailuku commissioner Nicole DeRego said. “I’ve only been here for a short amount of time, but I think it’s appropriate, especially with Nane who is very level-headed.”

All nine commissioners attended Wednesday’s meeting — the first time since at least 2016. The nine included new Paia member Jonathan Todd. Todd believes Tanaka “runs a solid meeting and cares” and hopes positive changes continue to be made.

“I hope there are changes in the winds,” he said. “My personal feeling is — and I think a number of commissioners I talked to today feel the same — there’s a trend toward making it business friendly. The commission has to be believable, it has to be consistent and there for the safety of people and our tourist base. I don’t think it’s tough balancing those things.”

In other liquor matters, The Dog & Duck Irish Pub in Kihei was fined $4,300 after pleading no contest to 10 violations relating to over serving a man and woman, as well as unapproved dancing on May 26.

The manager of the bar did not return a phone call for comment Wednesday evening.

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