SALT LAKE CITY — Neither the new chairman nor the newest member of the state liquor commission are drinkers — but both said after their first meeting in their new roles Thursday that it shouldn't matter.
"I think that's a legitimate question," said Richard Sperry, selected by Gov. Gary Herbert as chairman of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission. Sperry, a nondrinker and a medical doctor, has served on the commission since 2009.
Sperry said having nondrinkers overseeing the sale of liquor, wine and high-alcohol beer in Utah would be a problem only "if you had a commissioner who had an ax to grind, who was not just an abstainer, but a covert prohibitionist."
Still, since only one of the four current members of the commission, Jeff Wright, is a social drinker, Sperry said he could understand how other Utahns who imbibe might feel overwhelmed.
New DABC Commissioner David Gladwell, a former Utah legislator, said he wasn't asked by the governor's office whether he drank or not before being tapped to serve.
"I don't have an agenda. I don't have any predispositions," Gladwell said. As an attorney working with substance abusers in the juvenile court system, he said he has an interest in the department's programs aimed at preventing underage drinking.
Labeling himself a "nonconsumer" of alcohol, Gladwell told reporters it "really doesn't" matter if a commissioner is a drinker or not.
"The philosophy in Utah is you make alcohol reasonably available to everyone who wants to consume," Gladwell said. "At the same time, you don't want to encourage sales."
Herbert's spokeswoman, Ally Isom, said he "does not inquire whether an individual consumes alcohol when making any appointment, nor when employing staff."
For the DABC appointments, Isom said, "the governor is seeking solid policy minds who consider the marketplace, community, and state needs when making decisions."
Non-drinkers have traditionally outnumbered drinkers on the commission.
Herbert still has another vacancy to fill on the five-member commission. Once that's done, the commission is expected to help him find a new executive director, to replace longtime DABC boss Dennis Kellen.
Kellen, who will retire when his replacement is found, did not attend Thursday's commission meeting. He has been harshly criticized by lawmakers after an audit found a now-closed package liquor agency lost $300,000.
Sam Granato, a non-drinker who served as chairman until his term on the commission ended June 30, has said he now wants the executive director's job. Sperry said the governor wants the commission to conduct a nationwide search.
It is not clear how soon the governor will fill the remaining position on the commission.
Sperry said he hasn't been asked for advice, but would suggest the governor at least consider whether that appointee is a drinker or not.
"It ought to be a thought," Sperry said. "It ought to go through his mind. But again, it shouldn't be the controlling factor."
Under recent changes to the state's liquor laws, it was the governor rather than the commission that named Sperry chairman.
Sperry said the commission won't be noticeably different under his leadership. He said he intends to continue keeping commission meetings open to the public in most instances despite having greater flexibility to close them as a result of the recent changes to the law.
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