Saturday, May 25, 2002

City & County of Honolulu

City will replace
indicted workers

Ex-cops may assume duties of
6 liquor investigators and
2 former supervisors

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

The city wants to hire as many as eight liquor inspectors on a temporary contract basis next week to replace the ones that were indicted this week on federal charges of extortion and racketeering.

Based on the city's figures, it would cost the city at least $20,000 a month to replace the investigators.

On the advice of city attorneys, Managing Director Ben Lee declined to give the job status of the indicted six liquor investigators and two former supervisors other than that they are "not on the job." He would not say whether they were still on the payroll.

The city will be seeking the temporary replacements "from the qualified lists from the Department of Human Resources," Lee said. "If there's inadequate or not enough people on that qualified list, we will hire retired police officers."

The city will conduct interviews over the weekend, if necessary, to have the new investigators working as soon as Tuesday or Wednesday, Lee said. The temporary hires will be for between three and six months, depending on when permanent replacements can be hired.

Liquor control investigator positions being filled pay between $29,712 and $51,492 annually.

The eight indicted investigators are accused of taking bribes from hostess bars in return for not enforcing the city's liquor laws.

The commission has only three or four inspectors on the job since the indictments. Lee said he is talking to commission Deputy Administrator John Carroll about how they will best be able to do the job of a full staff.

"We're just going to have to stretch over the next three or four days until these (positions) are filled," Lee said.

The managing director said he does not expect liquor establishments to be lax with the rules in the face of a dramatically reduced inspector force.

"We certainly hold every liquor establishment accountable," he said. "The inspectors are basically there to ensure that they comply with the law, but we expect every owner of liquor establishments to self-monitor themselves, especially over the next week or so. And we expect that all liquor establishments (owners) will comply with the law."

Mayor Jeremy Harris, who deflected numerous attempts by reporters to be interviewed yesterday on the Liquor Commission scandal, wants liquor enforcement and inspection functions turned over to the Police Department.

Lee said the city may need a change in state law to place the Liquor Commission's functions within the Police Department. That would likely mean some kind of action by the state Legislature and possibly an amendment to city laws or policies, he said.

The managing director also acknowledged that there may be some reluctance on the part of the Police Department to take over the function. "The Police Department (and Chief Lee Donohue) has some staffing and operation concerns."

But Lee said, "We will work with the chief and the Police Department about how best to address the concerns, but clearly the investigation and enforcement portion would be better suited at HPD."

Lee said he envisions administrative duties -- such as inspections -- to fall under the department, although policies and the review of liquor licenses would still be the responsibility of the Liquor Commission, whose members are appointed by the mayor and approved by the City Council.

"That's just off the top of my head," Lee said.

Having the Police Department take over the Liquor Commission is something that Harris has discussed with Donohue for more than a year, he said.

Donohue's concerns, as well as the ongoing investigation into corruption at the agency, delayed that plan from coming forth sooner, Lee said.

Councilman John Henry Felix stepped up his call for action by asking Council staff to draft a resolution seeking a study on the efficiency of the commission's inspection duties.

"The study should seek to explore alternate ways to carry out this function including, but not limited to, utilizing the Honolulu Police Department, upgrading the current inspection branch, strengthening the selection process, improving training and retraining of inspectors, and providing competitive compensation," Felix wrote in his request.

City & County of Honolulu

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