From the beginning Utah DABC insiders have argued that the only real fix for the “cultural” problems at the liquor agency would be a radical change in management.
The state liquor monopoly has been dogged over the last year with employee complaints that they are bullied and spied upon by arrogant managers, who have driven out knowledgable managers. Restaurateurs and resort owners say the system makes it difficult for them to compete with over western cities for tourists and conventions.
Because Director Sal Petilos appears be shielded by the governor’s office, hope rested on whomever would fill the No. 2 position of deputy director. The deputy runs most of the day-to-day operations.
Wednesday, the long awaited announcement was made: Cade Maier was appointed deputy director. He replaces Tom Zdunich, whom many employees called “Petilos’ Dick Cheney.” Zdunich retired in August at the height of the DABC controversies.
Meier is a DABC insider who has worked for the agency as an information technology project manager and a warehouse general manager, making him what critics call “the safe” choice, but not the best choice.
According to former wine buyer and critic of the DABC Brett Clifford, the agency missed a bet by rejecting another candidate who is a liquor and wine broker in the private sector. (Herbert says he wants the state’s monopoly run on a business footing.)
“You had a very rare opportunity to pick someone who truly knows the liquor and wine business with an extensive background in the industry,” Clifford emailed Mike Mower, Gary Herbert’s deputy chief of staff. “He is also intimately familiar with the peculiarities of Utah’s broken wholesale and retail system as well the hospitality business. You don’t need another “yes” man—you need someone who can be honest about what’s wrong with the system and knows how to correct bad practices.”
Salt Lake magazine’s in-depth feature on the DABC troubles and Utah’s love-hate relationship with alcohol is arriving on newsstands now.