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Liquor chairman addresses search for new director

Chairman declines to give names of candidates during online event

Maui County Liquor Control Commission Chairman Nane Aluli appeared Wednesday at an online mixer of the Maui Filipino Chamber of Commerce. He did not disclose much about the effort to name a director. — The Maui News KEHAULANI CERIZO photo

The chairman of Maui County’s Liquor Control Commission stayed mum on specifics in the hunt for a new Department of Liquor Control director, a high-stakes role that steers a liquor industry that drove more than $400 million in sales last year.

“I will tell you this: As soon as the director is appointed, you guys will know about it because it will get in the newspaper real quick,” Chairman Nane Aluli said during a Wednesday night online mixer presented by the Maui Filipino Chamber of Commerce. “It will be announced at a meeting, and it will get out quickly.”

The commission, one of only three in the county responsible for vetting and hiring a county department director, has been working for months to secure a replacement for former Director Glenn Mukai, who made $139,133 annually. Mukai retired in February after more than three years marked, at times, by controversy.

When asked about the department being criticized for stringent rules and obstruction, Aluli said he hoped the new director could address these issues and build trust among the department, the licensees and the community.

“I think with a new director coming in with a fresh set of eyes, they will see there are areas that can be improved upon or changed,” Aluli said.

Still, Aluli said he cannot comment on department controversy because operations within the department are not in the panel’s purview. The commission’s role is to oversee the director solely.

“Obviously, I hear from the public,” he said. “I think those issues have been brought up with different directors. And they have been addressed to the best of our knowledge.”

Meeting participants, many of whom were restaurant and bar licensees, asked Aluli to disclose names of candidates for the position.

He declined to give names, citing “privacy issues.”

“There are applicants who didn’t get past the initial vetting process,” Aluli said. “There is background checks that do take place when we get to the point where we boil it down to the final group that will actually be personally interviewed.”

Four names came up during public testimony a couple weeks ago before the Liquor Control Commission, including Wailuku attorney David Jorgensen; Ken Takemoto, an Oahu resident and former chief liquor control investigator with the Honolulu Liquor Commission; Malama Minn, also of Oahu and current co-vice chairwoman of the Honolulu Liquor Commission; and Layne Silva, a senior investigator with the liquor department.

The name of Deputy Director Georgette Tyau, who is filling in as interim director, did not come up in oral testimony during the Sept. 3 meeting.

Aluli said Wednesday night that the panel is still reviewing applications and going through a final vetting process. The first wave of the process typically includes an application, resume and letters of recommendation. The second wave covers background checks that dive into possible criminal records, credit ratings and other items that “would reveal deeper issues that we need to be aware of.”

A Liquor Control Commission special meeting will be held online at 9 a.m. Tuesday. The public may testify or view the meeting by visiting https://bluejeans.com/151311484.

However, the panel will go into executive session and meet behind closed doors to discuss the hiring status.

“The commission will likely go into executive session to further discuss the vetting and appointment of a new director,” Aluli said. “At this point, I can’t say anything more than that.”

Aluli outlined leadership qualities he would like to see from the new director and cautioned that it’s often difficult for the leader to balance the interests of the licensees and of the community.

Not to mention, the new director will face a major reduction in department funding due to COVID-19. The department is funded by licensing fees, and Aluli said he was “not sure how it’s going to be impacted when it’s all said and done.”

“It will probably be discussed with the new director when the new director comes onboard, and he or she looks at what kind of revenues are going to be generated and what fees are appropriate under those kinds of conditions,” Aluli said.

Last year, the county had 442 licensees, with the largest group being retailers at 136 licensees.

Liquor sales in 2019 totaled $407,894,000, according to Aluli.

“You can see that liquor sales is a big economic engine in the county,” he said.

Overall, Aluli said the commission is focused on finding the best fit for the director job.

“We want to make sure we’re leaving a really good legacy,” he said. “This is my last year. Since I am the outgoing chair, I want our legacy as a commission to be that this new director is one that quickly gains the trust of his or her employees as well as the licensees and the community. Sometimes that’s a very difficult task, but that is our goal.”

* Kehaulani Cerizo can be reached at kcerizo@mauinews.com.

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