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LCB board opens up in new bid for transparency

| Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

HARRISBURG — In response to allegations the state Liquor Control Board operated in relative secrecy with little or no public discussion, agency officials are rolling out changes aimed at making meetings more transparent.

The LCB came under fire last year when a series of Tribune-Review stories revealed the agency created and approved eight controversial in-house brands of wines and spirits with no public deliberation at the board's twice-monthly meetings.

Agendas for those meetings were so vague that board Chairman Joseph “Skip” Brion said he voted to approve new varieties of an in-house brand and an entirely new in-house label without knowing it.

Although the board voted in public meetings to approve the wines — TableLeaf, Dialed In, LA MERIKA, Zita, Las Parcelas and Vinestone — and Copper Sun vodka, members signed off on the brands as part of a long list of new products without comment.

But following Wednesday's meeting, Brion said he's set out to make meetings more open and transparent.

This week's meeting was held in a more spacious room on the Northwest Office Building's first floor instead of the cramped fifth-floor conference room where earlier meetings had been held. And the meeting agenda, once a single page that listed only categories of agency business, totaled 59 pages.

The agenda, now posted online two days before the meeting, detailed every purchase, product change and personnel action the board planned to consider.

A separate section identified in-house brand price changes.

“As time went on, I was just trying to make changes to the process and to make the process more open,” Brion said. “Speaking to people in the industry, they asked to have more information given to them before board meetings, so it just took a little time ... to bring (changes) into fruition.”

At Wednesday's meeting, Brion sought input and invited comment on each item of business before taking a vote.

“I'm pleased by these changes, but not surprised,” said Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware County, an open-government advocate. “I've known Skip Brion for a number of years and I have complete confidence that his intention has been, is and will be to operate the LCB with as much openness and transparency as humanly possible.”

Pileggi called the LCB's operations last fall “difficult, if not impossible, for an average citizen to follow.”

But Jay Ostrich, spokesman for the conservative Harrisburg-based Commonwealth Foundation, said: “It's a shame the agency does what's right only after media and government watchdogs persistently intervene.”

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

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