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Guv says big changes ahead for agency that controls liquor sales

Published: Thursday, June 23 2011 10:51 p.m. MDT

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday there are big changes coming to the state's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Herbert said during the taping of his monthly news conference on KUED Ch. 7 that he's already interviewing replacements for two DABC commissioners whose terms are up at the end of the month — chairman Sam Granato and vice chairman Gordon Strachan.

And once the new members are chosen, the governor said they are likely to start their own search, for a new executive director. Outgoing executive director Dennis Kellen has said privately he hopes to retire soon.

"He's not talked to me about that," Herbert said. "If in fact he wants to retire and take that step, I would like to have that board in place so it's not a lame duck board that actually makes the decision on who that director replacement should be."

Under a change in the law, the commission itself chooses the executive director in consultation with the governor. The appointment must then be confirmed by the state Senate.

There's increased interest in the agency that controls liquor sales in the state after a recent legislative audit blamed "poor management" by the department for a $300,000 loss from a now-closed package agency in the Ogden Valley.

Lawmakers had already ordered a management study of the agency after the commission determined moneymaking stores would have to be closed to accommodate budget cuts made last session. The store closures have been put on hold pending the results of the study, due later this year.

Granato, recently confirmed by the Senate as Herbert's choice for a spot on the state's economic development board, said Thursday he's interested in the DABC executive director's job.

"I think Dennis would like to retire. I have talked to him about it. He's been there a long time," Granato said. "He's built a wonderful agency, but now it's time to retire."

Herbert said he welcomes all applicants.

"Sam and anybody else ought to throw their hat into the ring and apply, and we'll go through that process," he said. "I'm not championing anybody. I'm not opposed to anybody. Come one, come all and we'll see who's the best fit for the job."

The governor is not expected to reappoint Granato or Strachan to the commission. Both were appointed in 2007 by Herbert's predecessor, former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., as part of an effort to liberalize Utah's liquor laws.

"I expect we'll get two new people to be put on that board," Herbert said.

Email: lisa@desnews.com, Twitter: dnewspolitics

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