After ethics violations, LCB changes code of conduct

Posted: August 29, 2014

HARRISBURG - After several high-profile ethics violations by top staffers, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board has revised its code of conduct for employees and implemented a new code for firms doing business with the agency.

For employees, the revised code goes into effect next month. It explicitly prohibits them from accepting anything of value, under any circumstances, from vendors doing business or seeking to do business with the agency.

"There are no exceptions to this prohibition," the revised code states in bold and italic letters. Violating the code can mean being demoted or fired.

The agency has also fashioned a first-time code of conduct for firms that do business with the agency. It primarily contains prohibitions on giving gifts to LCB employees. But it also states that the agency could "from time to time" audit vendors to ensure they are complying.

The changes are in response to a spate of rulings this year by the state Ethics Commission, which found four former LCB officials violated ethics rules by accepting hospitality and other gifts from firms doing business with the agency and failed to report them on their annual statements of financial interest. The four were fined a total of nearly $24,000.

Still, the updated code of conduct for employees is not much different from the one that has existed for years, which also prohibited gifts and other favors from anyone doing or seeking business with the LCB.

In an interview Wednesday, LCB Chairman Joseph E. Brion said employees would now have to review the code and sign off on it every year. Before, they had to sign it only upon being hired.

"We felt it was important that they be reminded every year what the requirements are - what they are permitted to do and not permitted to do," Brion said.

He added: "I do think reminding people every year is something that will make a difference."

Others noted that the LCB has stricter ethics rules than many other state entities when it comes to accepting gifts. Members of the legislature, for instance, can accept gifts and hospitality as long as they report it on their annual statements of financial interest.

Former LCB Chairman Patrick J. Stapleton 3d, former chief executive officer Joseph Conti, and former marketing director James H. Short Jr. were cited and fined by the Ethics Commission in March, and were ordered to amend their statements of financial interests.

This month, the Ethics Commission fined the LCB's onetime director of product selection, Matthew Schwenk, $500 for failing to disclose golf outings for which vendors paid.


acouloumbis@phillynews.com

717-787-5934 @AngelasInk

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