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Retiring liquor board CEO Conti rehired as temporary worker with governor's blessing

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Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
 

Despite Gov. Tom Corbett's assertion that the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board does not need a chief executive officer, his office approved the LCB's request to bring back retiring CEO Joe Conti — at a rate of more than $80 an hour.

Corbett's Office of Administration signed off on the request to rehire Conti last week as a temporary emergency employee under a provision of the state retirement code that allows him to collect his pension on top of his hourly rate.

“By way of policy, we approve all requests for agencies to have an employee come back in that capacity,” said Dan Egan, spokesman for the Office of Administration.

Corbett said in June that he “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.”

Press secretary Kevin Harley said that as long as an agency follows appropriate policies, procedures and protocols, approval by the Office of Administration becomes a “ministerial-type function.”

In that case, there's little the office can do to reject a staffing request by an independent agency, Harley said.

Under the emergency “return to service” arrangement, Conti is limited to working 95 days this year at $80.16 per hour. His hourly wage is based on his $156,700-a-year salary at the time of retirement, Egan said.

Conti notified board members in a Dec. 31 letter of his plans to retire effective Feb. 15. After discussions with the board, Conti moved up his retirement to Feb. 2, said LCB spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman.

The LCB “will require Mr. Conti's assistance with preparing for the upcoming legislative budget hearings,” according to the form submitted to the governor's office,

“Since Joe has important strategic information, as well as expertise critical to the daily operation of the LCB, he will also be able to provide guidance on the continued effective operation of this agency,” Kriedeman said.

She said Conti has been the LCB's acting director of administration, so he will be able to help with the transition to a new director and new chief executive, though the title may change.

Labor attorney Mike Healey of Pittsburgh-based Healey & Hornack questions whether the LCB can consider bringing Conti back an “emergency.”

“When you plan for something, that's not an emergency,” Healey said. “It's one of these things that frankly doesn't pass the smell test.”

Healey said state agencies often have career employees who are capable of stepping in when someone retires.

“This all seems very unusual. I've never heard of this before,” said Terry Madonna, a pollster and political science professor at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster. “Why not just stay on until the (new) guy or gal comes on?”

The State Employees' Retirement System can review an agency's rehiring under the emergency provision.

If the retirement agency “has reason to believe that the return to service might not meet the standard set forth in (state law), SERS will investigate and, if necessary, adjust the member's retirement benefit,” according to a 2011 memo from executive director Leonard Knepp obtained by the Tribune-Review.

The retirement agency considers a number of factors when reviewing cases, including whether the rehiring was planned before the employee's retirement and whether the retiring and rehiring appeared to be a preconceived retirement plan, the memo states.

“The mysterious resignation and quick rehire under the guise of emergency is all at the public's expense, so double-dipping and disregarding established case law just adds insult to injury,” said Jay Ostrich, spokesman for the conservative Harrisburg-based Commonwealth Foundation.

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

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