Rolly: Utah alcohol agency’s worst nightmare? Publicity

By Paul Rolly

Tribune Columnist

Published: May 10, 2013 12:08PM
Updated: May 10, 2013 07:17AM
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Paul Rolly, Tribune columnist

The Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is charged with administering and enforcing the state’s interesting set of liquor laws and, as such, has identified for its managers the agency’s Public Enemy No. 1.

It’s news media coverage.

With that fear comes the bureaucracy’s worst nightmare.

A leak.

We were informed of a DABC manager’s meeting Tuesday in which the agency’s spokeswoman Vicki Ashby gave a presentation on “the evils of media manipulation,” according to the source.

Ashby highlighted one Salt Lake Tribune story as an example of that evil and she, along with DABC Executive Director Sal Petilos, indicated the department’s main goal is to have no media coverage, the source said.

That’s understandable since the department frequently is asked by the media about such regulations as the “Zion Curtain,” which has discouraged some restaurant chains from opening new outlets in Utah, a liquor-license-to-population ratio that has prohibited scores of restaurants from being able to serve alcoholic beverages and a rule that bans brew pubs from serving small samplers, an age-old tradition for such establishments.

The story Ashby complained about concerned a regulation prohibiting the serving of alcohol until the patron had actually ordered a meal.

The paranoia about the news media came through loud and clear when I attempted to get a comment from Petilos. I was told he was not available to talk to me “at all.” When I asked for Deputy Director Tom Zdunich, he, too, was not available to talk to me “at all.”

Ashby was on vacation, but she returned my call to her cellphone and said she was just warning managers that different media outlets interpret what they say in different ways so they need to be careful what they say and should make sure she is aware of the inquiries so she can make things clear.

She said there has been a difference in interpretations from “liberal” media outlets and “conservative” media outlets.

The Tribune’s story did point out that Petilos’ letter to restaurant owners after the first reports of the food-order regulation seemed to contradict a warning his agency had sent weeks earlier to industry officials.

The latter memo said that once a restaurant confirms the patron will order food, a drink may be served while the patron reviews the menu. The earlier memo said Utah law “does not allow for an alcoholic drink to be served while a patron reviews the menu.”

Pointing out such a discrepancy is, apparently, a liberal thing to do.

Speaking of being media shy • Farmers and ranchers who pushed through a Utah law making it illegal to photograph farm operations without their permission aren’t the only ones afraid of cameras.

Richard Anderson, who loves to study the history of trains, pedaled his bike to the Utah Transit Authority’s main transportation hub earlier this week to take pictures of a restored “Chessie” Moon Light Dome car sitting near the Amtrak platform.

A UTA cop rushed over to inform him he could not take pictures on “private property.”

He argued the platform was public property and pedaled away with camera in hand.

Maybe officials don’t want the public to see how they treat their trains.

‘A’ for effort • I happened to be in a medical clinic Wednesday morning and noticed a sign that asked, out of consideration to colonoscopy patients who had fasted for one or two days, to refrain from eating in the waiting room.

Since I was one of those fasting patients and had visions of cheeseburgers and shrimp dancing in my head, I appreciated the sign.

But the television was turned to the “Rachael Ray” show. She and guest Patricia Heaton were demonstrating how to create special breakfast meals for Mother’s Day. That was rough.

prolly@sltrib.com