Two nominees don’t currently meet state residency requirements.

The troubled Honolulu Liquor Commission will remain with only three members for now. 

Lisa Martin and Salvador Petilos had been nominated to fill two vacant slots on the commission, but neither currently meet a state requirement that county liquor commissioners must have lived in the county for the last three years.

Martin moved from Chicago to Honolulu around Thanksgiving 2020, while Petilos moved here in July 2021 after leading the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. 

The Honolulu City Council voted Wednesday to defer the Petilos nomination and to delay Martin’s until later this year. The city’s deputy managing director Krishna Jayaram said that they will work to find somebody else to fill the slot that was intended for Petilos. “There’s an oversight in my part in working with the candidate,” Jayaram said.

“The liquor commission has a state law overlay,” said Jayaram, explaining the oversight. “Most of our boards and commissions, we only deal with our own ordinances and our charter. So this one is a bit unusual.”

A special meeting of the Honolulu Liquor Commission June 29 heard details of a damning internal review of its systems. The commission will remain two people down for now. (Jake Indursky/Civil Beat/2023)

A Salt Lake Tribune article from 2020 announcing Petilos’ retirement from Utah’s DABC was raised in a question by Civil Beat prior to Wednesday’s meeting. The article reported an agency still rife with turnover, inadequate employee pay and a shortage of bar licenses in the state at the time of his departure. 

City officials responded to that information by moving to cancel and postpone the respective approval measures for Petilos and Martin from the formal council meeting agenda. 

Leaving the two vacancies open longer isn’t ideal though, Jayaram said.

Besides wanting to diversify the commission with more members, three commissioners are needed for quorum so the absence of any one would mean that business cannot be conducted. “When one of them is sick, one of them has a conflict, they can’t even meet,” he said. 

Petilos wouldn’t hit the three-year residency requirement until July 2024, which would mean the slot would remain vacant at least until then. Officials have decided to find somebody else and look at a different way for Petilos to assist the commission, saying they still think he is very qualified.

Scarlet Honolulu owner Robbie Baldwin.
Scarlet Honolulu owner Robbie Baldwin sued the Honolulu Liquor Commission and several of its employees in 2021, alleging that the commission’s enforcement was unfair and discriminatory against LGBTQ+ businesses. An internal review found that there had been inconsistent patterns of inspection. (Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022)

The Honolulu Liquor Commission was the object of a recent internal review of its enforcement arm that found haphazard data management and an inability to track complaints about agency personnel, among other serious failings.

A review of paperwork also found that certain establishments had been inspected multiple times, while others had not been inspected at all. The commission is currently being sued by the owner of an LGBTQ+ bar in Honolulu who alleges his business had been the target of discriminatory enforcement action by commission employees.

The nomination of Martin, who is a director for the Hawaii LGBT Legacy Foundation, was intended to signal a step away from that history.

Council member Esther Kiaaina said the fact that Martin “works as an independent business owner that works with numerous restaurants and serves as a board member on two organizations that support Hawaii’s LGBTQ community reflect an effort to find members for the Liquor Commission that support local businesses and support diverse representation.” 

Martin said she had received an email inviting her to join the commission, and that she’s excited to serve even if the timeline is different than expected.

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