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Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board CEO stepping down

Joe Conti is resigning as chief executive officer of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. no credit

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Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, 12:08 p.m.
 

Embattled state Liquor Control Board Chief Executive Officer Joe Conti will step down from his $156,000-a-year post, just as Gov. Tom Corbett renewed his pledge to push for privatization of wine and liquor sales in the state, LCB officials said on Saturday.

Conti, 58, notified the board late last week of his plans to “pursue future opportunities in higher education and the private sector,” according to an LCB statement. He will retire effective Feb. 2.

When reached by phone, Conti declined to say whether he has another job lined up or why he decided to retire now.

Most recently, Conti came under fire for conflicting accounts he and LCB marketing director Jim Short gave when the Tribune-Review raised questions about how TableLeaf wines, one of the agency's eight in-house brands, were brought to market and who was involved in the decision-making process.

LCB Chairman Joseph “Skip” Brion of Chester County, whose term began after nearly all the in-house brands had been approved, said in October that he started an internal investigation into how the brands were developed. Brion has not commented on his findings.

Conti signed retirement papers on Thursday, agency spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman said. Details of his retirement package were not available.

Corbett has left little doubt that he wants to abolish the CEO 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 a June interview.

Corbett's office did not return phone calls and emails seeking comment.

House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Bradford Woods, who led an attempt to privatize wine and liquor sales last year, agreed Conti's position is unnecessary.

“There really was never a need for that position, and I hope that they eliminate the position,” Turzai said. “It's emblematic of the inherent conflicts with government being in the position of overseeing and selling (alcohol). ... That position kind of personifies that.”

From the start, Conti's six-year tenure with the LCB was marked by controversy.

A former Bucks County Republican state representative and later a state senator, Conti was appointed board CEO by Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell in December 2006 after the position had been vacant for two decades.

The appointment so angered then-LCB Chairman Jonathan Newman that he resigned.

“I knew that it smelled bad and wasn't right for the commonwealth or the PLCB,” Newman said on Saturday.

“Reflecting six years later on the colossal blunders of the PLCB during the past several years, including TableLeaf (wines) ... and many other ideas that I thought did not make sense for the PLCB, hopefully under the leadership of Chairman Skip Brion, he can right the ship and make the PLCB the best it can be,” Newman said.

In a statement, Brion said: “We appreciate Joe Conti's service to the agency for the past six years and wish him well in his future endeavors as we focus on moving forward.”

Conti, Short and former board member Patrick J. Stapleton, who resigned Oct. 5, are reported to be under investigation by the state Ethics Commission for allegations that they accepted gifts and favors from vendors.

In a radio interview late last year, Conti acknowledged that “there are investigations going on,” but he has declined to comment further.

Short has declined to comment on the investigation.

Stapleton's attorney, Henry Hockeimer Jr., said Stapleton “is cooperating with the investigation” and that “he has not done anything wrong.”

In the LCB statement, Conti called his tenure as CEO his “greatest source of career satisfaction” and said he “could not wait to come to work each and every day of the last six years.”

His retirement agreement allows him to return as an hourly employee no earlier than Feb. 16 to assist in the transition and remain for no more than 95 days, Kriedeman said.

Corbett has said that in choosing a nominee to succeed Stapleton, he would look for a candidate who would vote to eliminate the CEO post.

Corbett nominated Ken Trujillo, a Philadelphia lawyer, last fall, but the state Senate did not consider the nomination before the two-year session ended.

Kari Andren is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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