Sunday, July 24, 2005


Liquor agency chief’s exit
doesn’t bring reform


City Liquor Commission administrator Wallace Weatherwax has resigned from the corruption-plagued agency.

WALLACE Weatherwax's resignation as administrator of the Honolulu Liquor Commission comes after years of corruption within the agency but provides no assurance of upright stewardship in the future. Dennis Enomoto, the commission's chairman, aspires to make it "the model agency in the city," but systemic changes are needed.

Weatherwax, a former U.S. attorney, has said he was unaware of what U.S. District Judge David Ezra described as the most "open and notorious cases of public corruption" he had seen in his 17 years on the bench. Two supervisors and six investigators who worked on the night shift were indicted three years ago for accepting bribes for overlooking liquor violations and are now serving prison time following their convictions.

The final straw for Weatherwax might have been his suggestion earlier this month that investigators be allowed to carry firearms. Mayor Hannemann called the suggestion "ill advised," and it was quickly rejected by the commission.

While Weatherwax might have been oblivious to the after-hours misconduct, the city auditor reported recently that commissioners acknowledged that they "have little knowledge of staff processes and exercise essentially no oversight over the administrator." Likewise, the City Council has little control over the commission, a creation of state law. Commissioners themselves have allegedly accepted free food and drinks from licensees.

Enomoto calls Weatherwax's exit the first step in regaining public trust in the agency. The second step should be making his replacement exempt from civil service protection. The commission can dismiss the administrator for cause, but civil service coverage of Weatherwax required a settlement to bring about his departure; he will be paid through October, although ordered to leave his office last week.

Problems with liquor investigations did not begin under Weatherwax's watch. An investigation in the late 1980s found numerous incidents of money laundering, extortion, racketeering and bribery by liquor inspectors and their supervisors. Corruption plagued the commission in prior periods, evolving to a culture of bribery.

In May, the commission unveiled the draft of a five-year plan to bring changes aimed at creating "an efficient, ethical organization with strong, positive employee morale and public trust and support." The plan includes contracting reserve officers for special operations, improving computer operations, creating an internal affairs section and increasing the number of commissioners.

Alvin Akeo, the commission's training specialist, has criticized the proposed changes as too little and too late. He points out that the internal affairs section is planned a year or more from now, suggesting that the staff will remain ethically challenged in the meantime.

City Councilman Charles K. Djou, who called for the resignation of Weatherwax two years ago, proposes that the county liquor commissions be brought under greater county control. Governor Lingle, a proponent of home rule, has endorsed the idea, but the Legislature has given it scant consideration.

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