HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Honolulu City Council is urging the Honolulu Liquor Commission to take steps to restore public trust, after the commission and its investigators have faced criticism over alleged discrimination and violations over the years.
It was a long overdue discussion between members of the Honolulu City Council and the Liquor Commission. The matter at hand is a lack of trust between the commission and the public.
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Council Vice Chair Esther Kiaaina is calling on the commission to establish an internal investigator to impartially review complaints involving commissioners and employees.
Kiaaina said, “Restaurant and bars contribute so much to the economy, and right now I don’t feel that the appropriate mechanism is in place for people to be able to complain if they believe such conduct is discriminatory, for example, which has been alleged.”
The Honolulu Liquor Commission Acting Administrator Anna Hirai said allegations of misconduct are currently reviewed by an outside contractor.
“Currently we retain on contract an internal affairs investigator,” Hirai said. “She is a retired HPD, she works on an on-demand basis, as opposed to keeping someone on the payroll for 40 hours a week.”
The resolution was introduced by Kiaaina and Council Chair Tommy Waters, it was in part prompted by allegations of discrimination by commission employees towards an LGBTQ establishment. That litigation is nowhere near to being settled but the Interim Commission Chair Malama Minn said she has heard of no wrongdoing while serving in the commission.
Minn said, “This is an ongoing lawsuit so I don’t want to have too many comments about it, I do not know of any instances like that.”
The resolution also urges Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi to disapprove of any rule that could allow the commission to shut down a business for 24 hours without prior notice or an opportunity for a hearing.
These are similar rules that were in place under the City’s COVID Emergency Order.
Through a statement, Mayor Blangiardi said, “A Honolulu Liquor Commission that has the trust of the public is critical and the Council’s resolution is a very clear expression of concern. My administration will take a close look at all the recommendations contained in the resolution as we determine the steps we should be taking.”
Meanwhile, Hirai said they will seek guidance from the City’s corporation council to determine when the proposed changes to the Honolulu Liquor Commission rules could go back for public comment.
Hirai said, “The fact that the rule is proposed for amendment or adoption or repeal does not necessarily mean it is going to happen.”
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The resolution will likely go in front of the full council during next month’s meeting, if it passes, the liquor commission will have 90 days to submit a report responding to the council’s request.