Council panel shakes
liquor agency’s tonic

The City Council's Budget Committee deferred a vote yesterday on a proposed hike in liquor licensee fees, the latest move to pressure Honolulu Liquor Commission's top managers to resign.

City & County of Honolulu The five-member commission has sought the hike to head off a possible deficit next fiscal year.

"We have also had, as you know, many concerns about the administration of the Liquor Commission," Budget Chairwoman Ann Kobayashi said.

Councilman Charles Djou, a commission critic, said a recent audit criticized the management of the Liquor Commission and pointed out that the Council has oversight. Council members approve the commission's budget and any fee increases.

Djou said the Council should exercise its authority and decline fee hikes until Liquor Control Administrator Wally Weatherwax and Deputy Administrator John Carroll are gone. Both Weatherwax and Carroll said they would not step down.

The latest Council move is "putting a great amount of pressure, pressure that is needed and warranted, and hopefully it is pressure that will lead them to do the right thing," Djou said. "I wouldn't say it was holding it hostage. I would say it was holding the commission accountable."

The commission has been under scrutiny after eight former investigators were indicted in 2002 on federal charges for accepting bribes to overlook liquor violations.

The Liquor Commission has power to hire and fire the administrator but not the deputy administrator.

The audit said, however, that one of the problems with overseeing the commission is that both managers have civil service protections that make dismissing them difficult.

Today, the Council's Executive Matters Committee takes up other measures related to the administration of the commission, including a proposed Charter amendment that would make the liquor control administrator's and deputy administrator's positions exempt from civil service.

The Liquor Commission is also scheduled to meet today to continue closed-door discussions on personnel issues related to the audit.

Commission Chairman Dennis Enomoto told the Budget Committee yesterday that the commission is making strides in improving the operations, but there are still obstacles, including vacancies, that hinder its enforcement of liquor laws.

Kobayashi also said another reason the committee was deferring voting on the fee hike request is because the commission gave the impression that there was no opposition to the fees.

Enomoto said the commission tried to address concerns raised by those affected by the proposed fee hikes.

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