Lee Loy’s bill would take the wiggle room out of booze ban

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HILO — Stricter limits on taxpayer-funded alcohol could soon become law, under a bill to be considered next week by a County Council committee.

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HILO — Stricter limits on taxpayer-funded alcohol could soon become law, under a bill to be considered next week by a County Council committee.

Bill 6, by Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy, would take any wiggle room out of the ability of county officials and employees to buy alcohol with county money.

It would change the law to state, “The purchase of alcoholic beverages for social or entertainment purposes is prohibited.”

Currently, the law states, “The purchase of alcoholic beverages is prohibited unless provided by authorized exception.”

The bill is set to be heard Wednesday by the council Finance Committee, which is meeting in Hilo council chambers. The public can testify there, or by videoconference from remote locations in Kailua-Kona, North Kohala, Waimea, Pahoa and Naalehu.

Both Mayor Harry Kim and Council Chairwoman Valerie Poindexter have already instituted internal limits on buying alcohol.

Kim calls his policy a “blanket ban,” although it does allow the Police Department to purchase alcohol for training purposes when it’s part of a formal program. Alcohol purchases require permission beforehand and approval of the department head, Finance Department director and mayor, under the Dec. 12 policy. The policy bans employees and officials buying alcohol with their county-issued purchasing card, or pCards.

Poindexter’s Dec. 19 policy states, “It will be the policy of the County Council and the Office of the County Clerk that there will be no reasonable exceptions that would allow the purchase of alcohol with county funds.”

“I think this is a nice complement to the administration policy and the chair’s policy,” Lee Loy said Wednesday.

Putting the new rules into law will make it much more difficult to allow exemptions or change policies when top officials such as the mayor and council chairman change. The law would have to be amended with a bill passed by the council and approved by the mayor.

That brings the public into the process, Lee Loy said.

“If some future elected official wants to change it, they’ll go though a public process and that’s what transparency is all about,” Lee Loy said.

Kim said he doesn’t have a problem with the bill.

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He said it bothered him that actions of the previous administration sent out a message that alcohol was necessary in order to conduct business. That administration spent thousands of dollars annually wining and dining officials and rewarding employees and volunteers by buying them drinks.

“I resented we teach people, and children, that’s the way we do business,” Kim said of the prior administration’s rationale. “This is not the way we do business.”