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LCB nears privatization with Corbett's nominees

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By Brad Bumsted and Kari Andren
Friday, Oct. 5, 2012, 11:47 p.m.
 

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Corbett's moves to reshape the Liquor Control Board could inch the state a step closer to private liquor stores and spell the end of Joe Conti's $156,700-a-year position as CEO.

Corbett, who favors privatization of the state-owned liquor system, soon could have two appointees on the three-member board if the Senate approves his latest nominee, Philadelphia lawyer Kenneth Trujillo, to a four-year term. Corbett appointed Joseph E. “Skip” Brion as chairman last year.

The Senate must confirm Trujillo by a two-thirds vote, which Corbett hopes will occur before the end of the session this month.

Senate Republican spokesman Erik Arneson said the chamber might consider Trujillo's nomination when lawmakers return on Oct. 15.

Trujillo will replace privatization opponent Patrick Stapleton, whose term ended in May but who continued to serve until Corbett nominated a replacement. Stapleton on Thursday gave official notification of his departure. The other board member, Robert Marcus, and Stapleton opposed privatization.

“Under Stapleton's tenure and with that majority … they were and have been actively inserting themselves into the legislative process,” said Steve Miskin, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods. “We're hopeful with new leadership at the Liquor Control Board, they will no longer act as a block, no longer actively be about self-preservation but working on their true functions.”

Stapleton and his attorney, Henry Hockeimer, did not return calls seeking comment on Friday.

Analysts say the changes will make the board less hostile to privatization, although the decision must be made in the Legislature.

Changing the composition of the board is one step toward privatization, said Joseph DiSarro, chairman of the political science department at Washington & Jefferson College.

“In and of itself, no. A change in the board, even though they may be more favorable to privatization, won't be enough to make the significant change within the Legislature,” DiSarro said. “You'll need more than that, but this is something that is a step forward.”

“If the board is not as adamant (in opposition), it may make it less messy for the advocates,” said Christopher Borick, a political science professor at Muhlenberg College in Allentown.

Privatization bills by Turzai have stalled for a lack of votes.

A change also might cost CEO Conti his job.

Former Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell in 2007 named Conti, a former Bucks County Republican senator, as CEO in a power play that prompted then-LCB Chairman Jonathan Newman's resignation. The CEO position was vacant for two decades before Conti.

In June, Corbett left no doubt that he would abolish the post.

“I never saw the reason for the initial appointment of the CEO, and I still don't see the reason for the appointment of the CEO,” Corbett said in June. “I need two votes on the board to change that.”

Asked if support for eliminating the CEO post would be a consideration in choosing his nominee to succeed Stapleton, the governor said, “Absolutely.”

“I have no comment on that,” Conti said. “I serve at the pleasure of that three-member board. Every day is a privilege.”

Newman said he hopes the newly configured board will abolish the CEO position.

“The PLCB board should be a hands-on board, and their responsibilities should not be delegated to a CEO that's being paid $156,000,” Newman said.

Board members make more than $71,000 annually.

Brad Bumsted and Kari Andren are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Bumsted can be reached at 717-787-1405. Andren can be reached at 724-850-2856.

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