For the last seven months, Traci Fujita Villarosa has been both the Deputy Director and the acting Director of the Maui County Department of Liquor Control. The Liquor Commission’s numerous attempts to replace former Director Frank Silva has been a “circus,” one former member of the LC told me recently.
On May 24, the circus tent finally came down when the Liquor Commission appointed former LC Deputy Director Glenn Mukai to be the LC’s new director. Given the familial history that run deeps throughout LC history, it’s almost to be expected that Mukai’s daughter Karilee Yoshizawa is both a current high-ranking official at the LC and one of the director applicants.
In fact, Fujita Villarosa was the sole director applicant who didn’t have some sort of nepotistic connection to the LC (Layne Silva, the fourth applicant, is former Director Silva’s son).
After briefly opening the meeting at 10:30am, during which it took testimony from two former LC officials–former Liquor Control Officer James Kendrick and former LC Deputy Director Wayne Pagan (both of which endorsed Fujita Villarosa)–and Fujita Villarosa herself, who during her testimony acknowledged a whisper campaign against her (“Rumors are not facts,” she told the commissioners obliquely, “please consider the source”), the commission once again huddled in private “executive session” with Corporation Counsel Ed Kushi while it re-interviewed the four director applicants.
Later that afternoon, the commission took more public testimony from former LC Adjudication Board chairman Jason Medeiros and current LC Boards and Commissions Secretary Sarah Cordeiro. Both endorsed Fujita Villarosa. Michael Kawagishi, who used to run the LC’s licensing section, also testified, though he vigorously opposed Fujita Villarosa, saying he has seen her “bully” a licensee and “makes decisions based on her biases” (strangely, Kawagishi also testified that one of Fujita Villarosa’s faults was that she “wrote a mediocre job evaluation for me”).
Frank Silva also testified, though he never formally endorsed a candidate. “Some of the problems we have now are my doing,” he said. “Morale [at the LC] is at an all-time low.” Then Silva told the commission about the long list of health troubles he’s currently facing–prostate cancer, colon damage and two strokes.