Joseph Bock and Kevin Sakamoto join a troubled city commission.

The Honolulu City Council confirmed two new liquor commissioners on Wednesday, updating the membership of a body that has been a subject of controversy in recent years. 

Joseph Bock comes from a media background as the Hawaii general manager of NMG Network, whose publications include Hawaiian Airlines’ in-flight magazine Hana Hou. Kevin Sakamoto has a background in banking, leading Central Pacific Bank’s wealth management division. He previously served as chair of the Honolulu Salary Commission. 

Prior to the addition of Bock and Sakamoto, the commission only had three people – just enough to make quorum. That meant no business could be conducted if any one volunteer commissioner was absent. 

Liquor commission meetings are typically scheduled weekly. Their agendas consist of granting new liquor licenses as well as adjudicating claims that establishments have broken the rules in some way.

With their confirmations, Bock and Sakamoto inherit a troubled organization

A review of the commission’s enforcement arm over the summer reported that it lacks reliable data for enforcement and has an outdated system for tracking complaints against its personnel. Staff have low morale, and inspections are frequent at some establishments but infrequent at others. The commission has also been accused of unfairly targeting the LGBTQ+ bar Scarlet Honolulu, the subject of ongoing litigation. 

The commission’s publicized issues are partially why Bock wants to volunteer his time toward improving it, he stated during an October council hearing.

“If the commission was running well, I don’t know that I would participate,” he said.

Bock served on the Hawaii LGBT Legacy Foundation’s board of directors for six years, and another nominee, Lisa Martin, is a current board member.

Martin is expected to be confirmed to the commission during the council’s December monthly meeting. She was nominated during the summer, but her nomination was held after Civil Beat pointed out that she and another nominee, Sal Petilos, did not meet the three-year residency requirement for liquor commissioners.

Martin will meet this requirement at the end of November. Petilos would meet it next year, but the city decided to make him administrator of the commission instead. 

Bock and Sakamoto will attend their first meeting as commissioners on Thursday.

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