Maui County Liquor Control Director Glenn Mukai strained a smile on Monday as he sat through a presentation of findings from a scathing performance audit of the Department of Liquor Control conducted by Harvey M. Rose Associates, LLC, a third-party consulting firm commissioned by the Maui County Council. Mukai, described in the audit as being allowed to operate his department with lax oversight and as having difficulties performing his job as director, reclined in his chair during the presentation by the firm’s representatives Fred Brousseau and Dan Goncher, who highlighted findings and recommendations from the audit report’s 104-pages and five sections for the Dec. 3 meeting of the Policy, Economic Development, and Agriculture Committee.
“We are puzzled that the evaluation [of director Glenn Mukai by the LC Commission] came back outstanding,” Brousseau told the committee when discussing the opening sections of the report. He added that while the audit was not intended as a job review, the commission’s evaluation showcased the problems the auditors found with the county’s liquor control: unclear criteria to guide actions and accountability measures, and a lack of effective oversight.
The result has been an office culture, licensing policies, and enforcement operations that have been viewed as inefficient, overly punitive, and retaliatory. “Our review of license and permit processes found evidence that confirmed many of the complaints that had been aired at a public town hall that we hosted in June and that were provided privately to our audit team throughout this project,” Goncher said.
“The department’s enforcement of state and county liquor control laws is not appropriately focused on activities that reduce alcohol related risks,” he explained. “We also found that the department’s strategic plans and annual reports do not measure or discuss the impact of enforcement operations on public health outcomes.”
Indeed, the audit states that 72 percent of all violations in fiscal year 2017-2018 were for minor violations “such as failing to clear tables in a timely manner and dancing while holding an alcoholic drink.” The issuance of these kinds of violations is rising while those for major violations (like selling alcohol to a minor) are decreasing, the report says, meaning minor violations and non-violations consume almost one-third of the enforcement division’s time.
The auditor’s report is drunk with shots like this that paint the picture of a department that is mismanaged and plagued by a breadth of shortcomings and failures. The report covers five sections of findings and recommendations: (1) Oversight of Liquor Control, (2) Commission Responsibilities, (3) Staffing and Human Resource Issues, (4) License and Permit Processes, and (5) Enforcement.
Despite the damning data and needed reforms listed in all of these sections, the PEA Committee was reserved in its criticism of a department that’s over-served on power and has gone for years without appropriate oversight or guidance, collecting a wealth of community complaints and employee grievances along the way.
“How the hell did even we allow a department to go 18 years without an update of an operations manual?” Councilmember Riki Hokama, who voiced the strongest criticism of the department, asked. “Private sector, I would say those people would be terminated in a heartbeat… This is a lot worse than I expected.” Hokama added that the performance audit could be used to inform a future fiscal audit of the department.
Committee Chair Councilmember Sugimura expressed that she was “shocked” to see some of the reports, including a “ridiculous” case where a renewal was denied for an application submitted one minute late. Sugimura hoped the department would have more understanding. “It’s just providing customer service to the people who create all this income for the county and the department, and making it easier for them to interact with you,” she said.
Yet, Mukai exited the meeting without being asked hard questions regarding his department’s performance and corrective steps being taken. “Many [of the audit’s recommendations] has been complied with or will be complied with or we are working on,” Mukai said. He explained that issues with Sunshine Law compliance and public notice were Corporation Counsel’s responsibility, not his department’s. In the rest of his answers, Mukai rambled around questions and justified LC’s activities by emphasizing the importance of the Liquor Control Department in regulating almost half-a-billion dollars in annual alcohol sales.
The PEA Committee voted to refer the audit report to the next council for later action.
Rules governing the Department of Liquor Control are a network of elements from the Hawai‘i State Revised Statutes, County Code, County Charter, and county-level Liquor Commission rules, leaving the council with the challenge of identifying appropriate action steps within its jurisdiction. “I’m working on a resolution to submit to the council to suggest some outcomes from the audit,” Councilmember Sugimura, who introduced the legislation to authorize the third-party audit, told me. Sugimura said she was unable to elaborate on the specifics of the language until its planned posting Tuesday, but indicated that she has also been looking at changes to the County Charter and to commission rules (which the council can only suggest and hold commissioners accountable for, but not implement itself).
Councilmember Don Guzman noted that 100 rules from multiple sections are scheduled for discussion for revision at the Dec. 12 meeting of the Liquor Commission. The agenda for the meeting was made public on Wednesday, and invites the public to a hearing at 10am in the David K. Trask Jr. Office Building. The suggested revisions are viewable online.
“What we really need to do is service the community, service the public,” Sugimura told me, while also stating the importance of focusing operations on major health and safety issues more than minor violations.
“[The audit] puts sunshine on the Liquor Department,” said testifier Madge Schaefer. As another member of the public, Mahina Martin, testified: “It’s long in coming.”
Illustration by Darris Hurst
Do you think the Department of Liquor Control acts in an overly punitive and retaliatory way?
This week we talked about the scathing third-party audit of the Maui County Department of Liquor control that shed light on the mismanaged department.
See our article: https://mauitime.com/news/law-enforcement/scathing-liquor-control-audit-presented-to-pea-committee-referred-to-new-council/
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