Interim Utah liquor agency director eschews privatization

SALT LAKE CITY — The interim director of the Utah Department of Alcohol Beverage Control says she doesn’t want to see the state’s liquor industry privatized.
“I don’t think privatization is the answer,” said Francine Giani, executive director of the Utah Department of Commerce. “I think you would lose money coming to the state.”
Gov. Gary Herbert appointed her to oversee the agency last August after legislative audits found it rife with mismanagement.
Giani reported her efforts to shape up DABC to the Business, Economic Development and Labor Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. She said she has worked with the department to bring budgets in line, keep stores open that were slated for closure and “move people along who shouldn’t be there anymore.”
“In the last six months, I believe that in fact the ship has been righted. Is it perfect? It is not,” she said, adding legislative auditors continue to review the agency.
State lawmakers are poised to revamp the department, which has been run by a part-time, five-member commission and a full-time director. One idea is to split the regulatory and sales aspects and have the director report to the governor.
Committee members praised Giani for the work she has done.
“I’ve made a lot of enemies along the way,” she said.
From what she has learned in running DABC, Giani said, the current system doesn’t work, adding she knows she will be “flogged” for that notion.
“You can’t run an agency with a part-time commission,” she said. “There are so many moving parts every day.”
Furthermore, to call the commission part time, she said, is a misnomer.
“Don’t call them part time. They’re not there four hours a day or every other day. They are there two or three hours a month,” she said.
“It is just impossible to have that model work and be effective. I don believe it has been effective.”
Asked by a committee member what she would do with the commission, Giani said, “I would love to have this conversation in private.”
Until accepting the interim DABC assignment, Giani said she had never been in a state liquor store in her 30 years in Utah.
“There’s a lot of things with this business that we love to hate. The reality is they do bring a lot of money to the state,” she said. Revenue from liquor sales goes the state’s general fund and the school lunch program.
Giani said all of the state’s liquor stores are profitable, but some could make money with better management. One of the problems, she said, is that clerks make only “$8 and change” an hour and don’t receive benefits.
“That’s ridiculous,” she told the committee. “Forgive me for saying people who sell alcohol should get paid more.”
The new director should look at that issue, Giani said, noting her stint over DABC ends when the Legislature adjourns in March.
“I will be doing the happy dance all the way back to Commerce,” she said.

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