Sitting in a luxurious, wood-paneled and sunlit second-floor office, Senator John Valentine, Rep., leaned back in his chair to discuss the most recent audit of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC).
“They had a culture of invincibility,” Valentine said. “They thought they were invincible, and whenever an agency has that attitude, there are problems.”
This was the view of things at 30,000 feet as Valentine described it, meaning when one looked at the big picture.
The most recent audit, released on Tuesday, Sept. 11, revealed not just this big picture, but detailed a lot of smaller pictures: numerous problems in inventory, finances and ethical judgments on nearly every level. However, these problems are not new. Legislators, including Senator Valentine, have been aware of many of these problems for several years and have been trying to eliminate them.
In 2011, Valentine sponsored Senate Bill 314, a bill which increased licensing and renewal fees, created several new license types and enacted online training guidelines for alcohol servers. It allowed for alcohol licenses to be dealt on the open market beginning July 1, 2012, as well as reformed the process of selection for such positions as the commission chairman and department director.
“Senate Bill 314 was designed to put in a system of checks and balances whereby no one person has all the authority,” Valentine said.
He further explained that some of the reforms effected by the bill changed the structure of the chain of command. Each person in a position of authority is responsible and accountable to report to others. Consequently, both independent commissions and internal commissions can act as watchdogs for each other.
As a result of stricter regulations, the former licensing and compliance director resigned earlier this year in March, admitting in his letter of resignation he had received gifts from a licensee.
Ostensibly, the addition of stricter regulations will damage the alcohol sales in Utah. However, Valentine believes that the regulations will have a neutral effect on the state’s sales. The purpose of the bill, he affirmed, was to ultimately change the culture within the DABC to one of honesty, especially given the egregious problems uncovered in recent audits.
As the most recent audit proves, even a year and a half after the bill was enacted, there are many problems yet to be corrected. The DABC is addressing those problems though. In the audit, Salvador D. Petilos, the interim director for the DABC, outlined his department’s responses and measures to the auditor general’s suggested changes.
When considering the sale of alcohol in Utah, Valentine explained, the state weighs the social cost, or risk to public safety, with its hospitality of alcohol. Risks to public safety include additional crime, problems within families, under-age drinking and DUIs, and although Utah ranks among the states with the lowest number of these problems, legislators like Valentine are still striving to improve those statistics.