Ex-PA liquor board CEO made $67,000 in six months as part-time consultant
HARRISBURG – The former CEO of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board was paid more than $67,000 during his six-month stint as a consultant for the board, while also collecting a state pension.
Joe Conti, who served as CEO of the PLCB for six years before retiring in January, returned to the board in February as a consultant making more than $80 per hour. Because of a loophole in state law, he was also able to begin collecting his state pension – which totals more than $60,000 annually – while working part-time for the board.
According to payroll records and expense reimbursements obtained via the state’s open records law, Conti was paid $67,728 for 845 hours of work between Feb. 2 and Aug. 2, when Conti left the part-time consulting gig.
He worked an average of 35 hours per week during the six-month period, earning an average of $2,821 per week.
He was also reimbursed for expenses totaling more than $1,600 during his time as a PLCB consultant. Those expenses included several lunches and mileage for businesses trips from Harrisburg. The PLCB also picked up the tab for Conti’s iPhone, which cost about $108 per month.
“Joe assisted the board in preparing for the budget appropriation hearings that were held earlier this year and the legislative hearings that were held in the spring,” said PLCB spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman.
Under the terms of the state law that allows retired state workers to collect pensions while doing contract work for a government agency, such an arrangement is only supposed to be for “emergency” purposes. The annual state budget process and legislative hearings hardly seem to meet that standard.
Conti’s short-term arrangement was legally approved the Office of Administration, which is overseen by the Corbett administration.
Barry Kauffman, executive director of Common Cause Pennsylvania, which advocates for open and transparent government, said Conti is not the first high-ranking state employee to take advantage of that state law.
“That certainly does not serve the public interest from either a financial or a policy perspective,” Kauffman said.
Dawn Meling, director of community relations for the Commonwealth Foundation, a libertarian think tank in Harrisburg that favors privatization, said Conti’s pay-plus-pension arrangement was ridiculous.
“It just shows another of the countless ways that the PLCB is wasting our public dollars,” she said. “And taxpayers should be asking: what was the PLCB’s ‘emergency’ anyways?”
Conti’s term as an emergency consultant for the board also coincided with the latest effort to privatize Pennsylvania’s state-owned liquor system. The state House passed a bill in March to sell off the wholesale and retail systems, but the bill is still sitting in the state Senate.
During his time as CEO of the PLCB, Conti was an outspoken critic of privatization. He was not directly involved in lobbying against the privatization effort this spring, though he was apparently involving in helping the agency prepare for the hearings, which examined the pros and cons of privatization.
As CEO of the PLCB, Conti made a salary of more than $150,000. The position of CEO didn’t exist before he was appointed to it in 2006 by then-Gov. Rendell.
After Conti retired in January, Gov. Corbett announced he would not be filling the vacant position.
Even so, part of Conti’s job description during his six-month tenure as a consultant was to help run the day-to-day activities of the PLCB while the board searched for a new CEO, according to Kriedeman.
Steve Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, who has led the charge to privatize the liquor system, said he agreed with Corbett’s decision to leave the position vacant and pointed to some of the questionable decisions made by the PLCB during Conti’s tenure – including the ill-fated wine vending machines and the installation of a $35,000 wine tasting room, which Miskin called a “party bar” for the PLCB and its favored clients.
“Whenever public dollars are being spent, those in charge need to be very self-critical of the value, the need and the justification,” Miskin said.
Conti also drew attention from the state inspector general’s office during the end of his term as CEO.
In 2012, a confidential report leaked to the Philadelphia Inquirer indicated that Conti and two other high-ranking officials at the PLCB were under investigation for taking gifts from vendors doing business with the board.
Boehm is a reporter for PA Independent and Watchdog.org. He can be reached at Eric@PAIndependent.com and @PAIndependent on Twitter.
The Pennsylvania Independent is a public interest journalism project dedicated to promoting open, transparent, and accountable state government by reporting on the activities of agencies, bureaucracies, and politicians in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. It is funded by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, a libertarian nonprofit organization.