Sal Petilos, the executive director of the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, announced Monday that he will retire from public service effective Jan. 4.
For the past 8½ years, Petilos has overseen the sometimes controversial state liquor agency — which, in fiscal 2019-20, topped half a billion dollars in sales for the first time in history.
“I look at the rearview mirror with pride at what we, as a team, have accomplished,” he wrote in an email to the DABC’s 600-plus employees.
“I am awed by your selflessness, your ability to rise to the challenges of an ever-changing environment, and your dedication in ensuring that the department is able to serve the citizens of our state,” he said. “I firmly believe that your efforts on behalf of the state deserve recognition, and it is my fervent hope that you continue to enjoy the support of the communities you serve.”
Petilos’ retirement comes just weeks before Gov.-elect Spencer Cox takes office, and on the same day, the incoming governor announced another round of senior Cabinet and staff picks, including his top energy adviser and the next commissioner of the Utah Department of Agriculture and Food.
“We are grateful for everything Sal has given to the DABC during his tenure,” Cox spokeswoman Jennifer Napier-Pearce said, “and his tremendous public service.”
The DABC’s liquor commission will discuss possible replacements for Petilos during its monthly meeting, scheduled for Tuesday. Those names will be forwarded to Cox for consideration. The eventual nominee will have to be confirmed by the Utah Senate.
Petilos, who has a background in law, has had a long career in government and education.
Before arriving at the DABC in 2012, he worked as an internal auditor with the Office of the Legislative Auditor General and was the director of the internal audit team at the Utah Department of Administrative Services.
He served as deputy director of the Department of Administrative Services and spent several years at Utah State University, where he was a health care policy analyst and a political science instructor.
During his time at the DABC, the agency’s ordering and inventory system has been streamlined; it has added several new liquor stores along the Wasatch Front with more in the works; and it has shepherded the state’s long-awaited move of stronger beer into grocery and convenience stores.
Petilos was unable to secure enough funding from the Legislature for high enough employee raises to make much of a dent in turnover. Today, that turnover averages more than 86% at the DABC’s 48 state-run stores.
Recently, Petilos also had been working to change the way lawmakers fund the DABC by giving the agency a percentage of gross revenues. While the agency generates millions for the state, it does not keep any of the profits. Under state law, all net proceeds are given to the state, and the Legislature decides how the dollars are divvied.
Under Petilos, the DABC created the closest thing Utah has to a lottery — a drawing for high-demand liquor products — but the agency, which also oversees liquor licensing and enforcement, continues to deal with a shortage of bar licenses.
All are issues, Petilos, a married father of two daughters and an avid skier, will hand over to a successor come January.