Council committee set to meet on liquor audit report

CHAIR'S 3 MINUTES

At its meeting on Monday, the Maui County Council’s Policy, Economic Development and Agriculture Committee, which I chair, will be hearing a presentation on a performance audit of the Department of Liquor Control.

After several controversies relating to department staffing and changes in the department’s rules, the council authorized the audit in February. The selected auditors, Harvey M. Rose Associates LLC, began the audit in May.

The auditors reviewed department records and processes, conducted confidential interviews with department employees, and held meetings with community members and stakeholder groups to gather input on the department’s operations.

After several months of work, the auditors finalized their report in October. The report will be a useful management tool as it outlines areas within the department needing improvement and recommendations for moving forward.

The auditors reported on five different aspects of the department: liquor control oversight, liquor commission responsibilities, staffing and human resources, license and permit processes, and enforcement.

The auditors note that the structure for oversight of liquor control in the county is not working efficiently. Recommendations include updates to the liquor commission rules such as requiring the commission to follow a selection process for the director of liquor control, and requiring the director to meet with licensees and other stakeholders before proposing changes to the county’s liquor rules.

The auditors also state that the commission has not been fulfilling its mandated responsibilities. Some recommendations for improvement are to standardize the criteria for evaluating the director, have an attorney monitor the commission’s compliance with Sunshine Law requirements, and to disallow commission members from having more than three unexcused meeting absences in a year.

Department staffing is at a relatively high level compared to the other liquor departments in Hawaii, and the auditors actually recommend a couple of vacant positions be deleted. They also warn that they found the department has a retaliatory nature. Everyone deserves to work in a safe space, so this must be looked at more closely.

Licensing and permit processing was noted to be cumbersome. Recommendations on this area focus on making the process easier for liquor license applicants.

For example, the department could post application materials online for the public to access easily. The auditors also recommend the department keep track of the time elapsed between application submittal and when the license is approved to help the department improve their processes overall.

Finally, liquor enforcement needs more focus. The auditors believe current enforcement policies and procedures do not focus on reducing public risks, like underage drinking and driving under the influence. They recommend updates to the liquor rules and department procedures to focus on these major issues as well as other changes that could improve enforcement efficiency.

Monday’s meeting will allow the committee to consider these issues carefully and lay the groundwork for the next council to work with the liquor department to better serve our community.

As with all other council and committee meetings, we welcome everyone to submit testimony at Monday’s meeting. You can testify orally or submit written testimony at the meeting. You can also send written testimony to pea.committee@mauicounty.us, referencing PEA-56.

Mahalo.

* Yuki Lei Sugimura is chair of the council’s Policy, Economic Development and Agriculture Committee. She holds the council seat for the Upcountry residency area. “Chair’s 3 Minutes” is a weekly column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.

COMMENTS