Mayor: Liquor rules should be com­mon sense

The Maui News - - FRONT PAGE - By CHRIS SUGIDONO, Staff Writer

WAILUKU — Mayor Alan Arakawa sug­gested the Maui County Department of Liquor Con­trol re­turn to “com­mon-sense rules” Wed­nes­day af­ter his of­fice was in­un­dated by com­plaints from the com­mu­nity over the past year.

How­ever, the mayor also jus­ti­fied the department’s pre­vi­ous rule changes to al­low 24-hour al­co­hol sales at retail stores and lift­ing the cap on host­ess bars. Arakawa said that retail sales were “not that big of an is­sue” and lift­ing the host­ess cap would have de­val­ued own­ers’ li­censes and power.

The mayor shared his thoughts on the department and Liquor Di­rec­tor Glenn Mukai dur­ing the

Liquor Con­trol Com­mis­sion’s monthly meet­ing. He said he made a point to meet with com­mis­sion­ers to ex­plain the an­nual, char­ter-man­dated eval­u­a­tion process of department di­rec­tors.

The com­mis­sion be­gan its per­for­mance re­view of Mukai, who was ap­pointed to his post in May 2016, in ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion Wed­nes­day. Mukai has drawn heavy crit­i­cism from the pub­lic af­ter push­ing ma­jor rule changes and im­pos­ing strin­gent re­quire­ments over non­prof­its ear­lier this year.

“My sug­ges­tion to all de­part­ments, in­clud­ing the liquor, is to go over your rules and start bring­ing them back to com­mon-sense rules,” Arakawa said. “Look at what the pur­pose of those rules are. If the pur­pose is not be­ing met and you’re over-reg­u­lat­ing, change the rules so that any 10 peo­ple sit­ting in a room can say, ‘Oh that makes sense.’ ”

Com­mis­sion Chair­man Bob Tanaka said that the group would dis­cuss its eval­u­a­tion of Mukai at its next monthly meet­ing. He said the com­mis­sion would then dis­cuss its rec­om­men­da­tions to the department.

Mukai de­clined com­ment Wed­nes­day.

Red flags within the department be­gan to raise shortly af­ter Mukai took of­fice, when about 45 busi­nesses faced is­sues with their ap­pli­ca­tions. Among them was the 64-yearold Maui Beach Ho­tel, which had lost its li­cense for the first time ever over “mi­nor tech­ni­cal­i­ties,” the ho­tel’s at­tor­ney said.

Is­sues reached a boil­ing point ear­lier this year af­ter the department pro­posed to al­low 24-hour liquor sales, home de­liv­ery of al­co­hol and lift the cap on host­ess bars. Retail stores, po­lice and the gen­eral pub­lic were un­aware of the changes signed into law in Fe­bru­ary by Arakawa un­til a story pub­lished by The Maui News the fol­low­ing month.

Hundreds of res­i­dents, com­mu­nity groups and law en­force­ment of­fi­cials re­jected the changes — which Mukai re­ferred to as largely “house­keep­ing” — in tes­ti­mony to com­mis­sion­ers and dur­ing protests on the street.

Arakawa said that he and the com­mis­sion did not be­lieve the 24-hour change was not go­ing to be “oner­ous to the com­mu­nity.” He said he avoids mi­cro­manag­ing the department be­cause he is not privy to all the de­tails and in­for­ma­tion it re­views. “To me it’s not that big an is­sue,” he said. “I don’t think it makes that much of a dif­fer­ence. The only peo­ple who are go­ing to want to go are the peo­ple who are work­ing late and don’t have time to go shopping.

“Whether they do or do not, the im­pact is not that great.”

Arakawa added that he agreed with the department lift­ing the cap on host­ess bars. He said that lim­it­ing the num­ber of li­censes ar­ti­fi­cially in­flates their value.

“Es­sen­tially it would close down most of the host­ess bars be­cause you have a lim­i­ta­tion on it and it gives a value to it,” he said. “Once that val­u­a­tion dis­ap­pears, the abil­ity to sell those li­cense evap­o­rates be­cause if any­body can do it, there’s no value to hold­ing the li­cense.”

Arakawa had pre­vi­ously re­jected re­mov­ing the cap af­ter it was maxed-out in 2012. Res­i­dents urged him not to lift the cap al­leg­ing that host­ess bars drove fam­i­lies apart and pro­moted sex traf­fick­ing.

Tanaka and the com­mis­sion sought to make the change for “free en­ter­prise” rea­sons and that “sup­ply and de­mand” would reg­u­late num­bers, ac­cord­ing to a story pub­lished in The Maui News on April 30, 2012. Tanaka said at that time that the ba­sic an­nual fee for a host­ess li­cense is $600, but that he had heard of li­censes be­ing trans­ferred il­le­gally for much more.

On Wed­nes­day, a lo­cal at­tor­ney who de­clined to be iden­ti­fied re­called a client be­ing paid a cou­ple hun­dred thou­sand dol­lars about a decade ago to walk away from a li­cense. The at­tor­ney said there was a push by peo­ple to get a li­cense “when the economy was good,” but in­ter­est has died down.

There are cur­rently about 10 host­ess li­censes, the at­tor­ney said.

Arakawa said that the is­land has not had any ma­jor prob­lems with host­ess bars “for gen­er­a­tions.” He ac­knowl­edged that he is putting his trust in the liquor department and com­mis­sion to come up with the proper eval­u­a­tion.

“You’re see­ing host­ess bars clos­ing down and not be­ing able to even sell the li­cense even though they’re lim­ited,” Arakawa said. “So if you take away that ex­tra value, it makes eco­nomic sense that they can’t uti­lize that pent-up value as a rea­son to keep­ing it open.

“There’s a lot of things that don’t sound right, but when you do it in the real world, it ac­tu­ally works.”

On the is­sue of sin­gle-event liquor li­cense ap­pli­ca­tions for non­prof­its, though, the mayor did not sup­port the department’s poli­cies. He said he has spo­ken to Mukai many times and had him in his of­fice to reeval­u­ate their op­er­a­tions.

Around May, the department be­gan forc­ing all non­profit board mem­bers and of­fi­cers to sub­mit to back­ground checks, fin­ger­print­ing and to pro­vide So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers. Department of­fi­cials re­peat­edly cited a 2008 change in state law that re­quired the checks, but the state Department of the At­tor­ney Gen­eral re­futed the department’s un­der­stand­ing of the law.

“We’re point­ing out that if it’s not a re­quire­ment and you’re cre­at­ing a prob­lem with non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions — what’s the pur­pose?” Arakawa said. “The pur­pose is to bring an or­derly method­ol­ogy in which the com­mu­nity can pros­per and be able to work with each other with­out caus­ing prob­lems. If the com­mu­nity is work­ing well and there’s no real prob­lem with it, you don’t need to over-reg­u­late it.”

Maui County Coun­cil Mem­ber Yuki Lei Sugimura, who pro­posed rule changes re­gard­ing sin­gle events held by non­prof­its that were adopted Wed­nes­day, thinks that the is­sue in the department re­volves around lead­er­ship. She said com­mu­ni­ca­tion be­tween the department, com­mis­sion and com­mu­nity needs to im­prove.

“This is lead­er­ship and how to sim­plify their hard job in re­la­tion­ship in help­ing the com­mu­nity,” Sugimura said. “I truly be­lieve it’s our re­spon­si­bil­ity to not be a hin­der­ance and be a sup­port if we can.

“That’s gov­ern­ment. It should re­ally get out of the way and try to help peo­ple.”

Ki­hei res­i­dent Madge Schae­fer, who filed a law­suit against the liquor department for its han­dling of the rule changes and non­prof­its ear­lier this year, pleaded to com­mis­sion­ers that the department be more “user-friendly” to the pub­lic.

“Every deal­ing with this department has been dif­fi­cult for the pub­lic,” she said.

Arakawa re­fused to give his per­sonal as­sess­ment of Mukai be­cause he felt it would be out­side his scope and un­fair. He said that if he based his de­ci­sions on pub­lic com­ment for ev­ery­thing, “we’d fire ev­ery­body.

“It’s the com­mis­sion’s role to do the eval­u­a­tion,” Arakawa said. “It re­ally has to be a fair eval­u­a­tion based on fact, not just in­nu­en­dos.”

Chris Sugidono can be reached at csug­i­

Glenn Mukai

The Maui News CHRIS SUGIDONO photo

Mayor Alan Arakawa speaks to county Liquor Con­trol Com­mis­sion Chair­man Bob Tanaka dur­ing the com­mis­sion’s meet­ing Wed­nes­day at the David K. Trask Jr. Build­ing in Wailuku.

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