Booze ban stalls again

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The Hawaii County Council moved no closer to passing new limits on buying alcohol with public funds after a second round of discussion Tuesday.

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The Hawaii County Council moved no closer to passing new limits on buying alcohol with public funds after a second round of discussion Tuesday.

Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, who introduced a bill strictly prohibiting such purchases, postponed the measure again after a proposed amendment exempting sister city celebrations failed to pass in the Finance Committee.

“I’m going to stay right here at a complete prohibition on alcohol,” she said, adding she is leaving it up to her colleagues to make other proposals. “… That’s going to be the threshold from here on out.”

Members offered varying opinions of the existing law — which leaves such purchases up to the mayor or council chairperson to approve — and whether a full or partial prohibition is needed.

Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff, who noted other counties have a complete ban, said she felt more comfortable leaving the law the way it is since exemptions for certain events could create more room for abuse.

“I would hope whoever we elect to these positions would be responsible with their decision in authorizing exemptions,” she said.

Hilo Councilman Aaron Chung said that wouldn’t solve the problem created by the previous administration’s “abuse” of its purchasing power.

He was referring to former Mayor Billy Kenoi spending hundreds of dollars at a time on alcohol with county money during business trips or after-hours meetings. Kenoi, who defended such expenses as helping the county cement important relationships, approved the purchases himself.

“Let’s call a spade a spade,” Chung said. “One of the problems was there was no checks and balances.”

Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha and Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara also said there needs to be more accountability.

Chung, who supported exemptions for sister city events, suggested having any alcohol purchases that the mayor or council chairperson allows to be filed in a report immediately for the public to see.

Mayor Harry Kim, who says he doesn’t drink, and Council Chairwoman Valerie Poindexter have issued policies prohibiting alcohol purchases in the administrative and legislative branches since new terms started in December. Poindexter said she is open to changing the policy to allow some exemptions.

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Lee Loy said she introduced the bill because those policies can be changed any time without input.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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