Lawmaker gives DABC a tongue-lashing, accuses liquor control agency of ‘bullying and spying’

Posted at 4:22 PM, Apr 28, 2015
and last updated 2015-04-28 22:36:01-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Utah Senate Minority Whip delivered a tongue-lashing to the state's liquor control authority over complaints about customer service and employee treatment at liquor stores.

Holding up a stack of emails she said she had received in recent months, Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, told the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission on Tuesday that she has heard an earful from customers and employees at state-run liquor stores. Complaints ranged from a DABC that seemingly doesn't care about the products it sells, managers being shuffled to other stores, the ousting of other employees and consistently low wages.

"Morale is low," Sen. Mayne said. "Way low. That's not how you run a business. Eighty percent are part-time people. You don't have loyalty with part-time people, you don't have stability with part-time people."

Speaking for nearly 10 minutes to the DABC commission, Sen. Mayne accused the agency of "bullying and spying" on its own employees who complain.

"We don't spy. We don't bully. We don't hurt people," she said. "If you've never done this? I'm wrong, you're right. It's good and then I come here just because I like you. But if there's an issue? Fix it!"

Speaking to reporters after the DABC commission meeting, agency director Sal Petilos said they weren't bullying, but holding people accountable in the aftermath of scandals surrounding the liquor control authority.

"We take the hit on that end and now that we're beginning to hold people accountable to policies, then we're taking the hit on that end as well," he told FOX 13.

Petilos insisted the DABC was having employees adhere to agency policies, and not bullying. The agency has lost some long time managers from its stores, prompting some complaints. It has also been blasted for its centralized ordering system, which aims to stock shelves with items that sell more over individual stores being able to hand-select merchandise.

Asked about employee wages, Petilos acknowledged they paid low. He said he continues to press state lawmakers to allocate more money for the agency to pay better wages. The DABC makes hundreds of millions of dollars in profits, but the money is actually controlled by the legislature, which slashed the agency's budget by $500,000 this year.

Sen. Mayne said if the DABC needed more money to operate, she would try to get it for them. DABC Commissioner Olivia Vela Agraz said told Mayne she welcomed the support.

But the senator reiterated her demand that the DABC fix its problems, or it would face more angry lawmakers. Also in the audience was Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton. He did not speak, but later told FOX 13 he was there to observe the proceedings.

Stevenson said he has taken on the mantle of liquor legislation after the departure of John Valentine. The senator told FOX 13 on Tuesday he was getting familiar with the DABC, but had no immediate plans to run any particular liquor bills.

Sen. Mayne said she believed the DABC could repair its problems without legislative intervention.

"You can fix it. You're a very powerful board, and we need you," she said. "You produce a ton of money for us, you feed our kids in school. We want you to be successful."