- Associated Press - Friday, January 6, 2017

HILO, Hawaii (AP) - The Hawaii County Council has decided to hold off on approving a bill that would increase restrictions on the purchase of alcohol by county employees because of concerns about whether certain ceremonial activities should be exempt.

Hilo Councilwoman Sue Lee Loy had initially proposed changing county code to ban the use of county funds to supply alcohol for social or entertainment purposes. But some council members said such purchases should be allowed when toasting dignitaries or visiting sister cities in Japan.

Lee Loy then included those two purposes as permissible in an amendment Wednesday, but both versions were postponed so the council can consider other options, The Hawaii Tribune-Herald reported (https://bit.ly/2hZsABX).

County code leaves alcohol purchases to the discretion of the mayor or council chairwoman. Mayor Harry Kim and Council Chairwoman Valerie Poindexter have issued their own policies prohibiting or placing further restrictions on alcohol purchases.

Hilo council member Aaron Chung said the new policies will result in him spending between $300 and $700 of his own money to buy wine for an upcoming celebration of the county’s sister city relationship with Shibukawa, Japan.

The councilman also discussed during Wednesday’s meeting some of the challenges council members may face if the stricter rules are enforced.

“It’s really hard, I think, to explain to people, ‘Sorry, this is a nonalcoholic event because we can’t spend money on alcohol. There will be no toasting except with water,’” Chung said.

With the new policy, Lee Loy said she’s trying to achieve “a stable framework the public can trust.”

The proposal comes after former Mayor Billy Kenoi used his county-issued credit card to cover personal expenses, including nearly $900 at a Honolulu hostess bar. He was charged with theft for purchases including whiskey, beer and other items for official business and making a false statement under oath.

His attorney had successfully argued during trial that Kenoi bought alcohol at various events to show his appreciation for people and build relationships. Kenoi was found not guilty.

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Information from: Hawaii Tribune-Herald, https://www.hawaiitribune-herald.com/

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