Inquirer Editorial: 'Emergency' hire makes sense by LCB standards

Joe Conti
Joe Conti
Posted: January 29, 2013

In at least one respect, Joe Conti, the (sort of) outgoing head of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, is the perfect man for the job: We can't seem to get rid of the LCB, and we can't seem to get rid of Conti, either.

Conti is serving his last week as the alcohol monopoly's CEO, but he and the agency have already seen to it that his retirement party will presage a throbbing hangover. Two weeks after he leaves his $156,000-a-year post, The Inquirer reported last week, Conti will be eligible to return as a very costly temp.

At the LCB's request, the state has approved the once and future booze minister to work up to 95 days as a consultant at $80 an hour. Assuming typical workdays, that would allow Conti to collect up to $57,000 on top of his annual pension, which has been estimated at $60,000.

Comically, this arrangement required the LCB to declare that Conti's long-expected retirement - from a position that was once vacant for 20 years - constitutes an "emergency." Yes, it does sound preposterous. But given that the state defines this kind of emergency as "a serious impairment of service to the public," the LCB itself arguably qualifies as a standing statewide emergency.

Moreover, Conti may be truly indispensable when it comes to explaining some of the more esoteric initiatives of his administration. Take, for example, the agency's puzzling decision to develop and sell its own labels alongside private-sector offerings. With Gov. Corbett himself questioning the need for state liquor control (though so far doing precious little about it), the LCB responded by delving even further into the business. Now, thanks to its nonsensically named "Tableleaf" and other brands, you can pair government cheese with government wine.

Or what about the agency's gone but unforgettable army of wine-droids? Conti may be the indispensable man who can tell us what the board was thinking when it deployed glitchy wine-vending machines to area supermarkets, only to be forced to decommission them in short order.

And Conti's expertise in personnel matters is not to be underestimated. For instance, the state Inspector General's Office reported that he lobbied Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr to give his daughter a job in an e-mail that also dangled the possibility of an LCB-sanctioned wine boutique in a Starr restaurant.

Considering such achievements, one begins to understand the liquor agency's rationale for keeping this man around as long as it can: Conti may be one of a kind. And for that at least, we should be grateful.

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