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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, April 6, 2006

Liquor agency chief must draw clear lines

The Honolulu Liquor Commission has made a key move toward recovery from its dismal criminal lapses in hiring Dewey Kim Jr. as its new administrator to oversee enforcement and licensing.

The commission has done some housecleaning at the top in the wake of a corruption scandal. Eight former investigators were convicted of racketeering, bribery and extortion for accepting bribes from owners and workers of hostess bars and strip clubs in 2000 and 2001.

Kim a trial attorney, longtime deputy attorney general and formerly executive director of state charter schools has a prosecutorial background that could guide him in filling vacant inspector positions and in overseeing how liquor laws are enforced at retail markets and bars.

But the real challenge Kim will face is as an administrator, and his six-month stint with the charter schools agency was an insufficient test. The laxity of ethical standards and oversight that led to the agency's scandals in recent years will require its top manager to draw solid boundaries for professional behavior and clear lines of accountability for its employees.

Kim said he plans to consult with other jurisdictions for advice on best practices. That's a good idea. He should focus his research, however, on cities that, like Honolulu, have a thriving tourist industry.

Of course, liquor control is a concern to the local community as well. Kim has pledged that his staff will tighten enforcement of underage drinking, having witnessed the tragic outcomes in drunken driving cases. That is a good first step, and he rightly acknowledges that it will take time to decide how best to equip inspectors to do their job.

As he learns the ropes, Kim would be best served by staying focused on the commission's primary function: as an administrative and regulatory agency. Law-enforcement "stings" might be among the tools, but most of that work, which would require arms, should be left to the police.

What counts most is that everyone, from the bar owners to the inspectors, understands the rules and the consequences of breaking them.