Pa. liquor board gets new chief

Posted: January 17, 2014

HARRISBURG - Even as talks continue in the Capitol about privatizing wine and liquor sales, the state Liquor Control Board has selected a new chief to oversee its day-to-day operations.

The board on Wednesday appointed John E. Metzger as acting executive director, replacing Joe Conti. The position has been vacant since August. Metzger has worked for the board for four years and is its supply chain director.

Among Metzger's responsibilities are directing the LCB's administrative and business operations, managing its executive team, and working with its three-member board to come up with new strategies and initiatives to improve the agency. His salary was not immediately available.

LCB Chairman Joseph E. "Skip" Brion said in a statement Wednesday that having an executive director "will allow us time to focus on the larger policy issues facing the Liquor Control Board in the months ahead."

One of those issues will be a renewed push by the Corbett administration and the Republican-controlled legislature to privatize the sale of wine and liquor.

Legislative leaders from the House and Senate have been meeting behind closed doors with top-level administration staffers to see whether they finally can agree on a privatization proposal. House Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny) said Wednesday he still holds out hope that a deal can be reached early this year.

The LCB has not taken an official position on privatization. But over the last few years, as the issue has inched to the top of the legislative agenda, the agency has made an aggressive push to become more consumer-friendly.

It has also been imploring the legislature to allow it more flexibility in pricing and hiring; let it open more stores on Sundays as well as keep them open later; and allow Pennsylvanians to have wine shipped directly to their homes.

There has been no legislative movement on any of those initiatives on the LCB's wish list.

Conti retired from his $156,000 position at the LCB in late January 2013. Soon afterward, the LCB decided to bring him back temporarily at the rate of $80 an hour under a provision in the state retirement code that permits former employees to return on an emergency basis while still collecting pensions. Conti left in August.

Conti's appointment came while the LCB was contending with an ongoing state Ethics Commission probe into allegations that top officials at the LCB, Conti among them, accepted gifts and favors from vendors.

The Inquirer has reported that state ethics investigators are confronting a deadline to complete that inquiry. They are given up to 360 days to report findings to the full commission, which then determines whether rules have been broken.

Several extensions can prolong the process, however. Although the exact date the inquiry began could not be learned, several attorneys involved in the case have said they were first told of it in the summer of 2012.

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