Sugimura & Horovitz shine at Liquor Commission as Non-Profits Prevail

The Maui County Liquor Control Commission voted today to revise proposed rules which would have added a host of burdensome requirements that nonprofit organizations would need to meet in order to apply for a one day permit to serve alcohol at fundraising events. That permit is known as a “Class 10 – special license.”

Present were Nane Aluli, Leon Bolosan, Nicole DeRego, Robert Tanaka (chair), and Roy Umeno. All voted unanimously to adopt language stating “special license applications for nonprofits shall not require personal history statement or criminal history background checks.” A number of other changes that reverted the regulations to their prior status was also approved. Absent members were Darren Lopez, Dana Souza, Dawn Bicoy, and Brenda Lee.

The meeting capped a long and contentious series of other commission meetings dating back to the early part of the year in which various “adjustments” to existing regulations were also rolled back as a result of public outcry and concern.

In today’s action Maui County Council member Yuki Lei Sugimura, acting as a private citizen, assisted by Wailuku attorney Peter Horovitz, of the law firm Merchant Horovitz, also acting as a private party, led an ad hoc coalition of nonprofit organizations to a successful outcome.

The pair was backed up by a host of representatives of various organizations, who in a polite but firm manner, took the department to task for overreaching its area of authority and placing an unnecessary burden on organizations that were already stretched thin. Several testified that due to uncertainty on the status of the liquor rules events had been canceled and much-needed revenue lost.

Working together the group managed to substitute language written by Sugimura, dubbed “Option #2 and #4”, to replace the proposals submitted to the commission by its staff. As Horovitz wrote in his Sept. 5, 2017, letter to the commission: “Sugimura’s proposal is superior to the department’s proposal in that it actually implements necessary change, as opposed to simply authorizing change at some future point.”

Though the representatives of the nonprofit organizations were pleased with the outcome, a great many questions were left unanswered such as Whose idea was it to propose the new rules that modified a system that had worked well and without apparent difficulty for over 30 years?

Also up in the air was item D in the Administrative Affairs section of the 15-page agenda which called for the “Annual review and evaluation of the performance of the Director of the Department of Liquor Control” – Glenn Mukai.

Director Mukai was a controversial choice when he got the job by a narrow one vote margin in May 2016. Given the tenor of the meetings this year and the reams of bad publicity his administration has generated, it appears the questions about his fitness for the position continues.

Chair Robert Tanaka said that the review and evaluation was a personnel matter and would be taken up in executive session, behind closed doors.

A surprise guest who appeared unannounced to sit in on that executive session was Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa, long rumored to be something less than a fan of Mukai.

The director of the Department of Liquor Control serves at the pleasure of the commission. The commission has the power to appoint and to remove the director. Given the months of controversy, public demands for accountability, and a seemingly never ending series of unintended consequences Mukai’s tenure may be in jeopardy.

Chairman Tanaka said that though the public would not be privy to their deliberations, there would be a summary available at the commission’s October meeting.

Sugimura also said that the discussion and action in executive session would be transmitted to the County Council via the Policy, Economic Development and Agriculture Committee (PEA). Yukimura is the chair of PEA.

It is too early to say if a move to oust Mukai will gain momentum in months to come. It is clear that the commission is well aware that the public is not happy with recent events.

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About Susan Halas

Susan Halas is a Senior Political Contributor at MAUIWatch. She has followed Hawaii politics since 1976 when she moved to the Valley Isle. She was formerly a staff writer for the Maui News as well as other local print and digital publications.

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