James T. Viela, the new Maui County Liquor Commissioner who just started his five-year term in March, has resigned. Viela’s letter of resignation is dated April 17—the same day this paper reported his 2005 conviction for driving under the influence of alcohol.
“Effective April 17, 2008, I am resigning my position from the Liquor Commission Board, due to personal reasons,” Viela wrote to Liquor Commission Chairman Robert Tanaka.
In a phone conversation, Viela—a Wailuku resident who runs an insurance firm and previously spent five years on the LC Board of Adjudication—declined to elaborate on what he meant by “personal reasons,” saying simply that, “I feel it was best for everybody.”
But Viela did say the timing of his resignation was due to Maui Time’s reporting on his DUI conviction. “I resigned when your article came out in the paper,” he said.
Mayor Tavares’ role in the Viela nomination remains the biggest unanswered question here. According to her letter informing the Maui County Council of the new Liquor Commission vacancy, Tavares didn’t find out about Viela’s resignation until April 23, nearly a week later.
Even more troubling, Viela said his 2005 DUI conviction never came up when Tavares nominated him to the Liquor Commission. And why should it have? There’s no question on the two-page commission application form asking if the applicant was ever convicted of a crime.
Which points to a serious irony: anyone applying for a liquor license needs to disclose any and all criminal convictions “other than a minor traffic violation,” but those on the Liquor Commission who approve all new licenses do not.
That the county has trouble filling board and commission vacancies is an old story—but is the mayor’s office so desperate that they carry out little or no vetting of applicants?
Who knows—Maui County Public Information officer Mahina Martin did not return a phone call asking for comment.