By John Valentine
Utah State Senator, District 14
This session will bring some important organizational adjustments for Utah’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Working with the House and Governor Herbert, we crafted SB66, and introduced it in our press briefing today. Representative Ryan Wilcox presented his HB354. The goal of these bills is to retain the necessary independence of the DABC, but also change elements to avoid repeating their problems of the immediate past. Policy should not be about big government, or small government, but smart government.
How did Utah arrive at the current DABC model of governance? The genesis dates back to 1935, when the DABC was created, and Utah made the decision to be a control state. In the 1970s, it was made an independent commission because of the scandals that occurred due to direct control by the executive branch. However, recent audits (here, here and here) and other inquiries have made it apparent that the lack of appropriate accountability to the executive branch also creates harm. We need to strike a balance between the two.
In SB66, the DABC’s structure is addressed. Under the proposed legislation, the number of people serving on the commission would increase from 5 to 7 members, with key responsibilities divided between two sub-commissions. One will be over Operations- which includes procurement, and the other Compliance, Licensing, and Enforcement. Each sub-commission would consist of 3 commissioners, plus the commission chair.
Internal Audit Division
An internal audit division would be established, which would report directly to the commission. Four already existing auditors at the DABC will now come under an audit director, and report directly to the commission.
The most significant changes to the DABC’s organization will be in its leadership. Appointments of the executive director and chairman will be made by the governor, with the advice and consent of the Senate. Thus, there is a direct line of accountability in place, while at the same time the DABC remains politically independent.
One issue the commission and governor have run into is removal procedures. Previously, there was no clear measure in place on how to remove a chairman, and the governor was reduced to using the bully pulpit. Under SB66, the chairman will serve as chair at the will of the governor. If removed by the governor, he/she would stay on the commission.
The executive director will serve a four-year term, but may be removed by the governor or with approval of the commission. Commission members still serve a four-year term, but will now be subject to the same removal procedures as a tax commissioner. We are seeking to apply provisions similar to those found in other agencies of government, while retaining the DABC’s independent status.
I am also pleased to announce that DABC meetings that were exempted from the Open Meetings Act last year will now be open – with few narrow exceptions. For example, we want to protect the private financial information of those applying for licenses. So, their confidential information will be redacted on an application before it is made public.
I believe this is the session for organizational adjustment, but not distribution reforms. When the DABC is up and running with full accountability, and in a fiscally responsible manner again, they will be able to run more efficiently and make decisions that are best for the state. These suggested adjustments strike a balance between full independence and at the same time keep measures in place to prevent mismanagement.
[Update]: Senator Valentine and Representative Wilcox introduced their bills today. Here’s the audio:
[Another Update]: And a video.