When I first started covering the Maui County Department of Liquor Control, I had to make a few assumptions. First and foremost, that the department was pretty much like other government agencies I’d dealt with. This implied that A) Technically proficient bureaucrats did most of the work while B) Politically appointed commissioners sat back and basically let the first group run things without comment.
I got a lesson in how right I was at the May 11, 2005 Liquor Commission hearing. After dispensing with all the hearings and approvals and everyone had left the meeting room except for staff and yours truly, the commissioners began asking questions about their jobs and duties that should have been answered years earlier.
For instance, Commissioner Marian Kunihisa, who’s sat on the panel since 2002, said she felt “uncomfortable” asking one permit applicant questions about his past businesses and alleged troubles with the law that were included in the files handed to each commissioner before each hearing.
My notes on the brief exchange that came next between Kunihisa and First Deputy Corporation Counsel Traci Fujita Villarosa are bracketed with question marks. I scrawled them there as I wondered why someone who’s sat on the commission for more than two years needed to be reminded that she could ask any applicant any question she wanted.
Villarosa sits in on Liquor Commission—and Adjudication Board—hearings to provide legal advice and information. Telling a commissioner what questions he or she can ask is so elementary it’s terrifying—you go over stuff like that during the briefing right after commissioners first take their seats.
In theory, the LC staff works at the behest of the commissioners. It’s a great theory, but it’s too bad it doesn’t work out in reality. MTW