Recently I chatted with a member of the LC, and this person’s observation caught me off guard. “What bothers me,” this person said, “are people that jump back and forth between the Liquor Commission and the Adjudication Board.”

I had never thought of this before, so I looked over the lists of Liquor Commissioners and Adjudication Board members. Sure enough, there was a lot of overlap.

Members of these two boards are volunteers, appointed by the mayor and approved by the Maui County Council. They serve five-year terms and are, at least in theory, supposed to be independent. In actuality, they defer to Department of Liquor Control staff on just about everything. 

On the Liquor Commission, which approves liquor licenses and rules, four of the current eight members have previous experience on either the Adjudication Board or the commission itself. Two—Ron McOmber and Edwin “Ken” Yokouchi—once sat on the Adjudication Board, while Commissioners Robert Tanaka and Merlyn Winters previously sat on the Liquor Commission (Tanaka served two previous terms, actually). If you count the time before Commissioner James Viela—a former Adjudication Board member—resigned, then five of the nine commissioners had been there before.

Over on the Adjudication Board, which sanctions licensees over liquor rule violations, three of the nine members have previous LC experience. Darren Lopez and Donald Fujii used to be Liquor Commissioners, while Jerrybeth DeMello served a previous term on the Adjudication Board.

This kind of familiarity makes it very difficult for commissioners and board members to go against staff recommendations or even just ask critical questions. And when that’s the case, why even have these boards in the first place?