It’s time to abolish the Maui County Liquor Commission. Maybe the whole Liquor Control department too, but we should certainly start by sweeping the tin-plated, know-nothing Liquor Commissioners out of the county government. They are worse than useless–they are anti-democratic cronies who show nothing but contempt for citizen oversight and public accountability–and the sooner they’re gone, the sooner Maui County citizens can get assurance the mammoth Liquor department is being run honestly.
Since time began, these nine appointed “Commissioners” sit once a month in their corporate polo shirts emblazoned with the LC badge and decide who in Maui County should get a liquor license. They also approve the department’s $3 million or so budget (funded largely by liquor license fees) and monitor the performance of the LC Director (who, on paper, serves at their behest).
Though designed to insulate the LC from the political machinations of the County Council and Mayor’s office, the Liquor Commission itself has devolved into a star chamber packed with toadies who no nothing of open government protections or even simple public decency. Their latest assault on open government is the travesty that is the appointment of Dana Souza–one of their own members–to the post of Liquor Control Director (the current director, Frank Silva, is retiring effective Nov. 1 after 22 years on the job). Since Silva’s retirement announcement in September, the Liquor Commission has done everything short of urinating on the state’s Sunshine Law to make sure Commissioner Dana Souza succeeds Silva.
They first met on Oct. 7 to deal with the matter. Though their agenda said they’d discuss the process of selecting a new director, the commission quickly voted for Souza to take over. After MauiTime cried foul and shook the Hawaii Sunshine Law in their faces, they retreated and scheduled a do-over for Oct. 28 (though neither Liquor Commission Chairperson Robert Tanaka nor Corporation Counsel Attorney Ed Kushi–who advised the commission on Oct. 7 and should have known better than to let them get away with trampling open government so brazenly–bothered to respond to my inquiries.
Of course, the Oct. 28 meeting was little better. Though the agenda for this meeting once again included a lot of action items related to discussing possible candidates and selection processes, the commissioners merely retreated into closed session, then voted to waive all that discussion and nonsense and vote on the real matter at hand–making Dana Souza the director. According to The Maui News, just one commissioner–Dawn Bicoy–voted against dispensing with an open, democratic process.
Though two members of the public–Maui County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Richard Minatoya and Maui County Board of Ethics member Sara Gadarian–testified that their responsibilities demanded that they deliberate over a new director in public, the fix was in. They had long ago decided that Dana Souza–the son of former LC Director Joe Souza–was their man, and to hell with an open selection process that might find someone else who was more qualified. The whole meeting took just 30 minutes.
“Even though the agenda said ‘discussion,’ there was no discussion,” Gadarian, whose late husband Blackie Gadarian was a former Liquor Commissioner himself, told me after the meeting. “Zero. That’s why the meeting was so short.”
Hilariously, neither Kushi nor Tanaka would comment to The Maui News for their story either. And why should they? They operate in their tiny LC bubble and lord over their very cushy empire, and public outrage means nothing to them. Why take the time to care about the public when you think the public is irrelevant?
We’re long past the point of wondering whether changing the Maui County charter so that the LC is treated like any other department is preferable to this. They need to go, and until they do, the entire department is clouded in shame and suspicion.
LC Watch log: Guy Junker