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Liquor Commission picks interim administrator

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The Honolulu Liquor Commission appointed attorney Greg Nishioka as interim administrator of the agency for one year, filling a position that has been vacant since former Administrator Dewey Kim quit last May.

A 1984 graduate of the University of California-Davis School of Law, Nishioka has practiced in Hawaii since 1985, handling mostly labor cases and advising small businesses.

"I’m honored," Nishioka said Thursday after his appointment. "I look forward to the challenges."

He said he comes to the 40-person agency with an open mind and knows he has a lot to learn.

"It’s a change of pace basically from what I’ve been doing in private practice," he said. "First and foremost, I think we have to continue to follow the positive things that chair (Dennis) Enomoto has started."

He said he looks forward to working with the staff and continuing with improvements by becoming more responsive to the public.

"I’m not here to come in and change as a reformist. I’m here to do a job," he said. "We have a duty to the public, number one, and number two, to the licensees. …We’re not adversaries … we need to work closely with them."

He said the arrest on Wednesday of a liquor commission employee who allegedly sold a liquor card to someone who had not taken a test was a sign that processes within the agency to prevent abuse are working.

"It was handled internally first before he was caught and that would have not happened" if the commission had not had mechanisms in place, he said. "It has worked. It’s a good thing."

Nishioka is principal attorney and president of Nishioka and Fujioka.

The Liquor Commission evaluated several candidates, and chose to make the contract for one year to give them a chance to find a permanent administrator and deal with rules under a new City Charter amendment.

Under the Charter amendment passed by voters in November, those positions will change from civil service to non-civil service in July 1. The change gives the commission the ability to fire a person in either of those positions. 

The commission plans to hire a permanent administrator before Nishioka’s contract ends.

The amount of Nishioka’s contract was not made available, but the liquor control administrator position pays between $7,189 to $12,026 a month, according to city data.

Deputy Administrator Anna Hirai has been acting administrator since Kim’s resignation. Before quitting, Kim had been placed on administrative leave in November 2009 because of a personnel matter. 

The agency has been trying for years to clean up its image after several embarrassing incidents. In May 2002, eight former liquor inspectors were indicted for accepting bribes from bar owners to overlook violations and were later convicted. In August 2002, a female liquor inspector sued the city, claiming sexual harassment and eventually won $250,000. In April 2006, a commission supervisor was indicted for extortion and pled guilty to taking bribes to overlook violations.

The Honolulu Liquor Commission, which has about 40 employees, regulates and enforces state and county laws regarding the manufacture, importation, sale and consumption of intoxicating liquors in Honolulu.

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