Council critical of liquor panel and department
Committee working on resolution to adopt audit recommendations
WAILUKU — Discussing an audit critical of the county liquor department and commission, Maui County Council members Monday called for increased oversight of the independent entities and expressed dismay at some of their practices.
Council Member Yuki Lei Sugimura, who called for the audit, said she was “shocked” when learning that a liquor license renewal was denied because it was one-minute past the deadline.
“That’s kind of ridiculous,” she said at the meeting with Director Glenn Mukai and other department officials appearing before the committee.
Council Member Riki Hokama said that people in the private sector “would be terminated in a heartbeat” if they had not updated a company’s operations manual in 18 years, as the liquor department has.
And Council Member Don Guzman said that the Liquor Control Commission’s Dec. 12 meeting has more than 100 proposed rule changes. Normally, departments come before the council to discuss proposed rule changes. He would like the liquor department to come back after the new year to discuss the changes.
(No agenda was posted on the liquor department website yet as of 4:30 p.m. Monday.)
The commission got into hot water with the public by making major rule changes, such as allowing 24-hour sales of alcohol and home delivery of alcohol in early 2017 without proper notice and hearings.
In fact, one of the audit recommendations calls for having the department reach out to stakeholders before making rule changes.
The council Policy, Economic Development and Agriculture Committee on Monday discussed and then deferred action on the $60,000 performance audit of the department and commission, which was authorized in February and completed in October.
The audit by Harvey M. Rose Associates LLC, based in California, made 54 recommendations that involved the liquor director and deputy director, the liquor commission, the mayor, the County Council and corporation counsel. The report examined five areas: oversight of liquor control, commission responsibilities, staffing and human resource issues, license and permit processes and enforcement.
Fred Brousseau, the partner in charge of the audit, and Dan Goncher, the project manager, made a presentation to the committee Monday in Council Chambers.
The audit recommendations include having the mayor and County Council conduct an annual review of the liquor commission; the council adopt the audit recommendations via resolution and conduct follow-up oversight; the Department of Corporation Counsel hold Sunshine Law training for liquor commissioners; and the commission order the director to change the operations manual and to conduct a survey with licensees.
Other recommendations include cracking down on multiple commission member absences and putting more liquor applications/license forms online. Auditors said that Maui County only has two types of license applications on the website, while other counties have most of their license applications online.
The audit pointed out that the department has a higher number of employees as compared to other departments in the state and has a high vacancy rate. Employees confidentially told auditors that the administration is “retaliatory and not open to new ideas” and that all positions in the department are not being utilized as they should be.
Karilee Yoshizawa, head of the administrative services division, appeared at the meeting. She is the daughter of Mukai.
Brousseau, without naming names, did note in his presentation that the situation of an official supervising another family member did come up in the audit. He said that situation “should be addressed by the county.”
The audit also recommended a more transparent liquor director selection process.
After the meeting, Sugimura said her staff is working on a resolution, suggesting rule changes and other recommendations in the audit. By deferring the discussion on the audit to the next council term, Sugimura said “we can do a follow-up to see what the department is doing with the suggestions of the audit and see if we can help the department in ways that we can.”
While the council does not have authority over the commission and department, Sugimura noted how community members, including herself, made their views known on rule and policy changes. The calls made by the community were adopted by the commission.
Council Member Elle Cochran asked if the liquor department would be having a public discussion on the audit. Mukai said he would see if the audit could be discussed at a future commission meeting.
The director told committee members Monday that he supplied the council members with responses to the audit and that the department already has been working on many of the recommendations.
On the issue of Sunshine Law compliance with meeting agendas, Mukai said they are reviewed by the Department of Corporation Council and are not prepared by the department. The commission establishes the agendas.
The department is looking to reorganize and update job descriptions, Mukai said. When he first took the office two years ago, many of the job descriptions did not match the work staff actually was performing, he said.
Overall, those testifying before the meeting were pleased with the audit, with some testifiers saying that changes are being made at the department with staff being welcoming and friendly.
The department also has eliminated the need to push a button to “buzz” office staff to open the door for the public, testifiers said.
* Melissa Tanji can be reached at email@example.com.