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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, February 18, 2010

Civil service gets in way of liquor panel

The Honolulu Liquor Commission has a history of dysfunction and is in no immediate danger of changing that tradition.

Dewey Kim, the commission administrator who launched various reforms aimed at cleaning up the reigning culture of corruption among liquor inspectors, has been on paid leave for more than two months, pending the outcome of an investigation.

All lips are sealed at the commission office over the details of the case, beyond a brief statement that criminal wrongdoing is not involved. The public won't learn anything more until city personnel officials sign off on everything, according to commission chairman Dennis Enomoto.

It shouldn't be this complicated.

And it wouldn't be, if the job would be reclassified as a strictly appointed post. Part of the delay and secrecy is because the administrator has civil service protection, which is fine for rank-and-file but is ridiculous for the boss .

A 2006 effort to fix the problem through a charter amendment failed. One of its champions, City Council member Charles Djou, said its chances weren't helped by the wording: "Should the administrator, deputy administrator and secretary of the Liquor Commission be exempt from civil service provisions?"

The amendment should have made clear that the intent was to make the position more directly accountable to the commission, itself appointed by the mayor. That's the same model the police and fire commission follow; the police and fire chiefs are not civil servants.

The city should make another effort to pull the Liquor Commission's top jobs out of civil service. The Kim mess has stalled the reform effort that's needed to make the liquor commission a competent regulatory agency, not a punchline.