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City hopes to increase public trust in Honolulu Liquor Commission

Noe Tanigawa
Hawai'i Public Radio

The Honolulu City Council is working on a measure to increase public trust in the Liquor Commission and overhaul its operations.

Years of allegations of inappropriate behavior and unjust investigations have led to waning trust.

The city auditor in 2019 recommended the commission create an internal affairs unit to review allegations of inappropriate behavior. Now, a resolution before the city council considers that.

The resolution seeks money from the Liquor Commission Fund to be used for this unit to mitigate inappropriate behavior.

Councilmember Esther Kiaʻāina, who introduced the resolution, believes the administration and current members of the commission feel the same way — and want to restore credibility in the commission.

"The restaurant and bar industry is one of the largest employers in the city and contributes substantially to our economy. We want to ensure that they are being regulated fairly so that they can continue to recover from the struggles of the last two years," she said.

"After the most recent lawsuit was filed alleging commission staff were committing federal civil rights violations and discrimination against certain classes of citizens, and after the council was asked to approve retention of legal services to represent the commission in that lawsuit, I started looking more closely at the history of the issues and concerns over time — and found this history and some of the continued allegations alarming," Kiaʻāina said.

The Housing and Economic Committee approved the resolution last week. It now goes before the full council for adoption.

Last year, the owners of the nightclub Scarlet Honolulu said in the lawsuit that investigators with the commission and the state Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs had a history of harassment and discrimination against the business and employees.

The lawsuit said the club was inspected disproportionately more often than other clubs not associated with the LGBTQ community.

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