SALT LAKE CITY — Democratic legislative leaders said Tuesday a trio of business and community leaders will take an independent look at the troubled state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
"We think this is a problem that has been created by government and has been too partisan, too political and cannot be solved by government alone," said House Minority Leader Dave Litvack, D-Salt Lake.
Litvack and Senate Minority Leader Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, said an outside perspective, including from the public, has been missing from the review department of the Office of the Legislative Auditor General.
An October audit cited incompetent management at the department. The attorney general's office is investigating allegations the department's former executive director committed a felony related to business dealings with a company owned by his son.
But their announcement of a new evaluation came just a day before a state consultant — former Democratic candidate for governor Bob Springmeyer — is scheduled to unveil a business plan for the department.
"It's surprising," Springmeyer said of the oversight by leaders in his own party. But the Bonneville Research president said he didn't feel slighted.
"No, no. They're looking at it from their perspective. I'm sure they think they're doing the right thing and they're contributing to good governance in the state of Utah," Springmeyer said with a laugh.
Litvack said he forgot about the Springmeyer report being presented to the Legislature's Business and Labor Interim Committee Wednesday morning. Romero said he did not know the nature of the report but expected the new evaluation to "fill in the gaps."
Springmeyer said he was paid just under $100,000 to produce an enhanced business plan for the department. He said he will propose moving restaurant and bar licensing and compliance to the Department of Commerce.
"They're business regulation people. They know how to deal with that," Springmeyer said. His report will suggest the department focus on retail operations, including state liquor stores and package agencies, he said.
It will also recommend consolidating some liquor stores into larger, more convenient locations, including outlets in Murray, South Salt Lake and the Avenues in Salt Lake.
Litvack and Romero released a copy of a letter to GOP Gov. Gary Herbert detailing their plan for another look at the department by Peter Cooke, a retired Army major general; Stephen Schuback, president of Standard Optical; and Jeff Hatch, a former Salt Lake County auditor.
The letter states, "the time has come to act on behalf of the people of Utah" and invites the governor to be involved in the initiative. It also asks that Herbert carefully consider the recommendations, expected in January.
The governor's spokeswoman, Ally Isom, said his office had not seen the letter or heard details of the Democrats' press conference.
Isom said their call for another look at the department "seems premature. The legislative audit is ongoing and the Bonneville report, a third-party, independent review, is due to be presented to a legislative committee tomorrow."
The governor, she said, is already "taking a serious and thoughtful look at various models, while working with legislators, to determine what is in citizens' best interest" as a long-term fix for the department.
Some GOP lawmakers are considering proposing legislation next session to privatize the sale of liquor, wine and high-alcohol beer now controlled by the department, but that has yet to win the support of the governor or legislative leaders.