Awesome Power

Most people seem to realize the LC is a flawed department. (We won’t take all the credit for that public awareness, but we will take a little.) Yet there are still some who question whether they have enough authority to exact much damage. Just a few days ago we got an e-mail from a reader wondering if we’re making a “sea monster out of a centipede” (his line, and a pretty good one) with this column.

Don’t be fooled. The LC may look like an innocent little county board without the bite to match its bark, but these guys (and gals) have real power. Scary power. With a wave of the hand, they can close a bar or restaurant. Permanently.

The first such casualty of 2009 occurred at the Adjudication Board’s February hearing. Kahului’s Hang Loose Lounge was brought up for the third time on charges of selling to a minor decoy. The last time, in May 2008, the LC suspended their liquor license for 10 days, a crippling blow for most establishments. Hang Loose hung in there, but the third time was not a charm. 

“We’re revoking your license.” With those four words, Vice Chair Darren Lopez sentenced a business to death. There was an awkward moment of silence as those in attendance tried not to look at the condemned, then an even more awkward moment as Lopez offered a fumbled apology. To his credit, he did actually sound kind of sorry.

And in fairness, Hang Loose wasn’t innocent. They got popped three times for the same offense; though we have issues with the whole minor decoy program, it kind of comes down to that old “fool me once…” bit. But even if the facts were pretty clear here, that doesn’t mean they are in every case. The power to shutter businesses with one fell swoop is an awesome one. And as we all know, when it comes to exercising power, the LC isn’t always awesome.