SALT LAKE CITY – Wednesday, the Utah Senate approved Governor Gary Herbert’s appointment of Department of Commerce head Francine Giani as temporary executive director of the state’s liquor control agency, as well as the nomination of attorney Constance White to the liquor board.
Giani replaced 36 year veteran Dennis Kellen who was asked to resign last July following a legislative audit that indicated questionable purchasing practices, including multiple purchases totaling more than $426,000 from his son’s packaging company, many just under the $1,000 line that requires using a bidding process.
Auditors have also been investigating $300,000 in missing cash and merchandise following the closing of a package store in the Ogden area.
Another recent finding questioned $37,122 worth of champagne sold to the January 2011 Sundance Film Festival that was not paid for.
The Senate has asked Giani and White to keep a low profile, along with the four other members of the liquor control board. Senator Jerry Stevenson-R, Layton told them, “Your ultimate goal as an organization is not to appear in the newspaper.”
There has already been friction between Giani and recently appointed liquor board head Richard Sperry. Sperry has told Giani that she works for the liquor commission, and she is “not an independent actor and a law unto yourself.”
Giani had told Sperry in an email exchange that she would not be attending a September 15 meeting without her interim assistant after Sperry asked her to attend alone. Sperry also told her if she refused to meet with the commission or hid her actions from them, she was in violation of the law.
Giani did attend the meeting, but the board voted that it be a closed meeting (Giani wanted it open). However, microphones were accidentally left on, making part of the meeting public to anyone outside. Discussion was heated concerning Giani’s role and her need to provide them with information, not just the governor. Giani replied in the past, they based decisions on “whatever Kellen told you.” As this meeting was not over personnel issues and protected under Utah’s Open Records Law as Sperry claimed, ABC4 News has filed an official complaint that the meeting was closed.
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Source: ABC4 News, Salt Lake Tribune, Utah Legislature
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