Bring liquor panels
under county control


The city auditor has accused the Honolulu Liquor Commission of inadequate management of its operations.

THE Honolulu city auditor has confirmed what a chorus of critics -- most recently U.S. District Judge David Ezra -- has been saying for decades: that the Honolulu Liquor Commission's lack of accountability has resulted in corruption run amok. State action to correct the problem has languished in this and previous sessions of the Legislature.

The liquor commissions were created by state law but are county agencies, supposedly managed by county councils. However, because the commissions are creatures of the state, counties have lacked the power to exercise meaningful oversight. The result has been a culture of corruption.

In sentencing the eighth former city liquor investigator to be convicted in the past year for accepting bribes from bar owners, Ezra expressed dismay over the most "open and notorious case of public corruption" he had seen in 17 years on the bench. "Where are the people who are supposed to be watching the house?" the judge asked. "Where are they?"

No one claims responsibility for watching the house, according to City Auditor Leslie Tanaka. He added that even the liquor commissioners "acknowledged that they have little knowledge of staff processes and exercise essentially no oversight over the administrator," Wallace Weatherwax.

Tanaka found "little accountability" by Weatherwax, commissioners "too far removed from their oversight responsibilities" to make a difference and, consequently, "ineffective personnel policies and management."

City Councilman Charles K. Djou has proposed state legislation endorsed by Governor Lingle that would bring the commissions under greater county control, but it has received little consideration by the Legislature. Following the city audit, Djou called for the resignations of Weatherwax and chief investigator John Carroll.

Both men said they have no intention of stepping down. Even if they did, the problems won't be solved until the commission comes under effective county control. Mayor Hannemann should join Djou in pressing for needed systemic reforms.


Privatize operation
of Honolulu Zoo


Mayor Hannemann has appointed a group to evaluate the prospect of a public-private partnership to operate the Honolulu Zoo.

A proposal to privatize the Honolulu Zoo collapsed two years ago amid a firestorm of criticism and lack of a specific plan by then-Mayor Jeremy Harris. Mayor Hannemann now has created "a group of stake holders" to consider what he calls a public-private partnership to operate the zoo. His administration should come up with a specific plan to follow a national trend toward privatization of zoos.

The Honolulu Zoo Society is eager to be assigned to run the $6-million-a-year Waikiki operation. Such a partnership "will enable the society to take a much larger role in the management of the zoo that the government is not in a position to utilize," says former city Corporation Counsel Gary M. Slovin, the society's new president.

That prospect drew complaints from groups of zoo employees when it was put before the City Council in 2003. Thirty-five zookeepers signed a petition saying the society "lacks the ability to properly manage the facility."

If those concerns still exist, Slovin should provide assurance that the society is up to the task. He recently met with the administration of Woodland Park Zoo, where management and financial responsibility was privatized by the city of Seattle in 2002. Slovin calls that transfer a blueprint for Honolulu.

Admissions, membership, marketing events, private contributions and other revenues received by the Woodland Park Zoological Society now pay 62 percent of the zoo's operating cost of $24.8 million, with the city paying the remainder. Other zoos, such as those in San Diego and Philadelphia, receive no tax dollars at all.

The Honolulu Zoo Society has been spending less than a tenth of its budget on the zoo's operation, concentrating its efforts on fund-raising, education and volunteer programs. Transfer of responsibility from the city to the society will require major change that is long overdue.

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