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Momentum for reforming DABC builds

Published January 31, 2012 2:38 pm

Alcohol • Proposals from business panel call for new direction, more outside control.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A group of business and hospitality industry leaders are calling for the reorganization of the board that oversees the state's liquor-control agency, even as commissioners review another audit critical of how the monopoly is run.

On Tuesday, legislative auditors told commissioners during their monthly meeting that they should conduct independent audits to ensure that the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is effectively managed.

Auditor supervisor Brian Dean said the DABC is doing a better job of keeping track of small, privately run liquor outlets, called package agencies, but commissioners should conduct independent audits to ensure the department is effectively managed. The DABC had an internal audit division nearly a quarter century ago, but it was disbanded, Dean said.

For now, DABC auditors report to their supervisors, who in turn report to the five-member board.

The legislative audit, released last week to lawmakers, is among several reports that have criticized department managers for failing to report problems to the part-time liquor control board.

But a 10-member Review Committee of business and hospitality industry leaders have gone further, calling for the board to be reorganized.

The panel, organized last year by Democratic leaders in the Legislature, said the DABC's retail and wholesale operations should be placed under the control of the governor. The liquor board in turn, should focus on licensing and rule-making requirements under the auspices of the Department of Commerce.

Committee co-chair Peter Cook, who is considering a gubernatorial run, said public meetings conducted by the panel showed there is confusion about liquor laws and a perception that leadership in the state is flawed when it comes to the maze of regulations.

Cook, who is CEO of PSC Enterprises and a retired U.S. Army major general, said reorganizing the DABC may be the "last resort for those who seek to avoid complete privatization of retail alcohol sales in Utah." The panel's findings will be forwarded to the entire Legislature.

The panel noted that the independent liquor board should retain licenses and rule-making responsibilities because these functions are the most susceptible to political interference. But the state's wholesale and retail operations should be overseen by professionals with much more retail experience than "we've seen in recent years at the top of the DABC."

Gov. Gary Herbert has said he would prefer to see the troubled DABC moved into the Commerce Department, but Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, is pushing for a strengthened version of the current system with an independent commission overseeing the liquor agency.

dawn@sltrib.com

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DABC Review Committee

The 10-member panel was appointed by Democratic legislative leaders. Its findings:

• The independent liquor commission should retain control of awarding liquor licenses and its rule-making powers.

• The commission should relinquish oversight of wholesale and retail liquor sales to the governor's control.

• The Legislature should reconsider private sales of licenses, saying the law favors national chains over local businesses.