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Layne Silva tapped as new county liquor director

Department veteran vows to make changes

LAYNE SILVA – To lead Liquor Department

Despite a monthslong search that included the vetting of candidates from outside Maui County, the Liquor Control Commission chose to stay in-house and settled on longtime liquor control officer Layne Silva — the son of a past director — to head the department.

The commission voted 5-3 Tuesday to name Silva as successor to Glenn Mukai, who left the $139,000 a year post earlier this year. The vote came after hours in executive session; no commissioner offered comment on their decision in open session.

Commissioners Bruce U’u, Leon Bolosan, Stanley Ruidas, Jerrybeth De Mello and Roberto Andrion Jr. voted for Silva’s appointment. Leslie-Anne Yokouchi, Jamie Becraft and J. Aaron Boswell voted no. Chairman Nane Aluli declared the successful appointment of Silva after five votes were cast in his favor but did not publicly say how he voted.

Silva will begin as director Monday, according to Aluli.

There has been a propensity for the liquor commission to return to progeny of former directors to lead the department. Silva is the son of former director Frank Silva.

After Frank Silva retired in 2015, the commission tabbed Dana Souza for the post. He is the son of Joseph Souza, who was Frank Silva’s predecessor. Dana Souza later declined the appointment and Mukai was chosen.

After the vote, the new director, who has 21 years as a liquor control officer in the department, said that he is grateful to be tapped for the position. He believes his lengthy experience offers an advantage on fixing problems in a department that has come under fire for rigid enforcement and requirements for one-time nonprofit events and in dealing with licensees.

“I have a lot of time invested in the department, and I’ve been hearing a lot of the things that have been said as far as change and hoping for change,” he said. “I think what I have to offer is a fresh perspective from the inside — I can see the things that need to be fixed, and I have ideas on how to do that.”

Silva acknowledged criticism of the department and said he is focused on repairing relationships among department staff, the licensees and the public. 

“There have been times when we haven’t been as transparent as we should be or as open as we should be,” he said. “Now that I have the opportunity, I’m going to try and change that perspective.”

Silva said another priority will be to create a more healthy work environment that fosters unity.

“That’s where it begins: It begins in-house,” he said. “Once we can cure what’s going on inside, it will reflect out. Hopefully, that will be evident to the licensees and the public.”

The department is responsible for the regulation and control of the importation, manufacture, sale and service of alcoholic beverages.

Licensees and community members for years have called for changes in the department, citing lack of transparency, arbitrary rules and intimidation.

Pamela Tumpap, Maui Chamber of Commerce president, told the commission Tuesday that the Chamber hears concerns about the department from members and nonmembers.

“The volume of stories — I can’t even look at the magnitude — it’s far more than what you’ve seen, and the reason you’re not seeing it is fear,” she said. “The reason you’re not seeing people go to the adjudication board is fear and intimidation. This has to stop . . . We have to have a change.”

Mukai, who was earning $139,133 annually, retired as department director at the end of February after a three-and-a-half-year term. His leadership of the department was marked by controversy over major rule changes that were passed without proper public review and notice that included unrestricted hours of liquor sales and home delivery. The changes were later rolled back by the commission.

In 2018, a Maui County Council audit of the department and commission found longstanding issues of operating in an “inconsistent and arbitrary” manner and “not fulfilling . . . mandated responsibilities.” Mukai said the audit covered periods beyond his tenure as director, including the time when Frank Silva was director.

After the vote, Aluli expressed confidence in the commission’s choice, saying that Silva understands best the work ahead.

“I’m excited about it,” Aluli said. “I think we will see good things done because Layne has a firm handle and idea on the challenges ahead and really what needs to be done to move forward, especially in light of the audit that was done a couple of years ago.”

Asked about worries over hiring an in-house leader for an embattled department seeking change, Aluli said he is confident about how Silva will handle the challenges.

“I feel confident that Layne understands what he can’t be and that is he cannot be the old boy network,” Aluli said. “He has to be responsive, transparent, very open to the public and to the licensees on an equal basis. That’s a real balancing act.”

Aluli added that licensees and issues of public safety may be at odds and the two interests must be equally considered, which can be tough.

Silva is a Maui High School graduate who served in the U.S. Army and has been a coach for various youth sports for 17 years.

The other finalist for the position, Timothy Poindexter, a former California Highway Patrol sergeant who is currently director of safety and security at Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu, congratulated Silva after the vote Tuesday.

“It’s been a long process to make it to this point and not be selected, of course, it’s disappointing,” he said. “But, of course, I wish nothing but the best for both Layne and liquor control moving forward, and I hope he’s able to take the department where it needs to be moving forward.”

Garrett Marrero, CEO of Maui Brewing Co. and a liquor licensee who has been outspoken on the hiring process, congratulated Silva on Tuesday, adding that he believes positive changes will be made.

“We hope he follows through with his promises of changing the department’s culture and modifying the rules and creating a more cohesive and positive environment for not only licensees but also those working within (the) liquor (department),” he said. “And we offer our support as licensees and experienced business owners to help him through this process.”

Bev Gannon, chef-owner of Haliimaile General Store, Gannon’s Restaurant and Celebration Catering, said many licensees, such as herself, have testified about the changes needed over many recent meetings. Gannon said she is hoping Silva has listened and will implement quick changes needed to make the department successful.

“Let us hope that he reads the audit that was done on the liquor department and rapidly make some changes,” she said. “He knows that we are absolutely considered one of the worst departments of liquor in the country, and I have high hopes that he will make major changes to make it a usable, user-friendly department that will help all of us get through the worst possible time in business for people in restaurant business and for people who do sell alcohol.

“Otherwise, it will just be the same old, same old.” 

After Mukai retired in February, the department placed advertisements seeking candidates in Maui and Oahu newspapers. In June, the commission voted to spend $24,000 of its funding from licensees to hire a recruitment specialist to expand the search for a new director.

In September, a temporary investigative group charged with helping recruit and interview qualified candidates recommended four finalists, also including Deputy Corporation Counsel Peter Hanano and Thomas Higgins, who was lead flight chief for the Air Force civilian police.

Aluli said the commission took its time to thoroughly vet potential candidates and cast the net “as wide as we possibly could.” While some candidates offered great potential, they may not have had the specific requirements of the position. 

“We really did take our time to deliberate on this,” he said. “Even though it needed to be done in executive session, every single commissioner put in the time — all voluntary time — to make sure they were making good decisions.”

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

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