Hiring mars liquor board, ex-chair says
HARRISBURG -- Heavy-handed politics by Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell in secretly engineering a $150,000-a-year post of CEO for the state Liquor Control Board last month damaged the agency's image, the board's former chairman told a Senate panel Tuesday.
Jonathan Newman, praised by one senator for bringing the LCB "out of the dark ages," told the Senate Law and Justice Committee the move by Rendell that led him to resign "forever politicized" the $1.6 billion liquor agency.
The board's rubber-stamping of Rendell's handpicked CEO, former state Sen. Joe Conti, of Bucks County, happened less than 24 hours after Newman was told about it, he testified, calling it a "power grab."
Newman, of Montgomery County, said he objected to the salary and the lack of transparency. Contending the new position of CEO usurps the powers of the board, Newman said he had no choice but to resign on Jan. 3 from his $65,000-a-year job.
The way it was handled showed "a complete disregard for the Legislature," said Sen. John Pippy, R-Moon.
Patrick Stapleton, the new LCB chairman appointed by Rendell, said the board needs a CEO, and that he's been working on that for 10 years. "Pennsylvania negotiated a great deal to find a CEO to do this job," Stapleton said, citing private sector salaries.
"Under this job description, there's no abrogation of responsibilities" by the board, Stapleton said.
While Newman said there should have been a national search, Sen. Michael Stack, D-Philadelphia, said, "Pennsylvania sort of functions in its own world, and Senator Conti has unique qualifications."
Supporters noted Conti's experience as a liquor licensee and as former chairman of the Law and Justice Committee.
Sen. Sean Logan, D-Monroeville, said Rendell's choice of Conti needs to be viewed in the context of other political appointees by other governors to agencies such as the Turnpike Commission and the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency.
Kate Philips, Rendell's spokeswoman, said Newman "is a disgruntled ex-chairman, so I am not surprised" by his testimony. "Today's hearing made it very clear that (hiring Conti) was a wise move and long overdue."