The new Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division (A.B.D.) administrator, Stephen Larson, has been on the job for four months and says he had worked to set the division back on course.
Former administrator Lynn Walding was not reappointed, and it was later revealed Walding had spent thousands of dollars on things like artwork and had authorized a one-million dollar payment to a contractor remodeling the agency’s warehouse, long before the work was done. There were also some questions raised about personnel.
Larson had previously worked for the state treasurer and says he used the experienced he gained there and applied it to the A-B-D. “Prior to when I came in, there was a lack of discipline in regards to process, and that range in all kinds of different arenas,” Larson says.
Larson says he also had to provide “empowerment” and “build trust” among all the people involved with the division, both internally and externally. Questions were raised about the purchase of big screen TV’s and an expensive dishwasher for the division’s building. Larson says the building isn’t extravagant, but the questions were justified in how the decisions were made on the purchases.
“It wasn’t that any was excessive, it was the lack of the procurement process documentation to justify the changes that were made, and which could be tracked legitimately through the auditing process,” Larson says.
Larson says he has pushed to see that all the proper processes are followed and has also worked to get the beverages commission board more involved in the operations. Attorney General Tom Miller advised Governor Culver he could not fire Walding and that has become a political issue. Larson says he did not feel a lot of pressure in taking over the job — despite all the attention focused on the division.
“I felt that there is less pressure, because it’s like, if you are not following a triple-star, or a star…the standards are higher…I think the expectations will be higher, but I don’t feel pressure because I don’t think that the standards that I have to meet are very high,” Larson says.
Larson says in the treasurer’s office he reported to the treasurer and now he is overseeing all aspects of the division and has worked to understand it better. That includes hitching a ride on the trucks that deliver alcohol.
Larson says he wanted to learn about the distribution system, so he had been riding along with the truck drivers and meeting with the employees in the warehouse “so I know their challenges, because what they do is hard work.” He says he needs to know how they do that work, because the product has to be delivered in a responsible way. Larson says he is new to the alcohol business, so he has also spent a lot of time reviewing the sales data.
Larson says he wants to see how the sales compare, the trends, and making sure they have the appropriate systems to identify the good trends and the negative trends. He says he also wants to be able to identify ways to reduce costs and become more efficient so if they don’t reach the benchmarks in sales, they can save money in other areas and still meet projections.
The A.B.D. generated over $100-million in liquor sales, licensing fees, excise taxes and civil penalties in 2009.