Governor Gary Herbert called for and received the resignation of Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control Director Dennis Kellen, for “serious violations of state procurement laws,” and tasked Francine Giani, Executive Director of the Utah Department of Commerce as an interim director.
The announcement today from Herbert’s office not only called for Kellen’s resignation but also for another audit into the DABC. Kellen (pictured) had already faced bruising criticism from a legislative committee in July for overseeing the loss of $300,000 from an Eden liquor-packaging agency. Even before an audit dinged Kellen for the agency’s insolvency legislators tightened up conflict-of-interest policies for the DABC in the passage of Senate Bill 314, the 2011 Legislature’s primary liquor bill.
In a statement from his office, Herbert announced that a new audit will be conducted to investigate further possible ethical lapses with the DABC. "We have reached a point where it is clear the best judgment and leadership were not exercised in this agency,” Herbert said in a statement. “The audit will reveal whether further action will be warranted." While the lapses were left unspecified in Herbert's announcement, the Associated Press has reported that a company owned by Kellen’s son received several five $989 maintenance contracts since July 1. The article goes on to note that contracts under $1,000 did not have to be competitively bid, but that a spokeswoman for the Governor’s office said Kellen denied involvement in those contracts.
Giani is now preparing to meet with legislative auditors as well as the Governor to receive a debriefing on the role she’ll take as the interim DABC director. While she is unclear on the directive she expects to involve herself in making sure the department finds new leadership.
“We’re going to go down there and take a look and assist and do what we can while I’m in charge,” Giani says. The position Giani says is temporary. “I’m going to go the commission and engage them in trying to find a good, solid, strong director who can come in, and frankly, perhaps do a little house cleaning,” Giani says. “Based on the little I know, that’s what needs to happen.”