HARRISBURG - A state Liquor Control Board member said yesterday that he considered his vote last month to hire a new chief executive as simply restoring an upper-management position that existed about 20 years ago.
Thomas F. Goldsmith said he didn't anticipate that the 2-1 vote to create the position and fill it with a former lawmaker would become so controversial that it would generate a 21/2-hour meeting of the Senate Law and Justice Committee.
"Obviously, that was a miscalculation," said Sen. Sean Logan (D., Allegheny).
The committee pressed Goldsmith and board Chairman P.J. Stapleton about the sudden hiring of former State Sen. Joe Conti (R., Bucks) shortly after he left the legislature at the end of November.
Goldsmith and Stapleton hired Conti over the strenuous objections of the then-chairman, Jonathan H. Newman, who said that the decision was too secretive and that Conti's $150,000 salary was too high. Newman has since resigned and was succeeded as chairman by Stapleton.
"It just seems to me it was done in a rush," said Sen. John C. Rafferty Jr. (R., Chester), chairman of the Law and Justice Committee. "That in itself has led to our questioning the whole process."
The hiring decision came two days after Gov. Rendell called board members to suggest they add a top manager - although such a move had been discussed for many years - and suggested Conti's name.
Conti is the former Law and Justice Committee chairman, and his former colleagues seemed to go out of their way on several occasions to praise him.