Monday, May 4, 2009

Thank you, Beaver County Times

It's sad that the only media outlet that pointed out the real problem with the "ethics" of the recently-awarded PLCB 'courtesy contract' was the Beaver County Times. Take a look: they nailed it. In a nutshell? The Auditor General had no choice but to say that the contract was "legal." And there's no doubt that the contract presented -- at least -- the appearance of a conflict of interest; it was awarded to a company run by the husband of one of three PLCB Regional Directors. As the editorialist says, "While legal, the contract speaks volumes about a political environment that parses what’s legal and what’s right with great care."

What's really sad is, given how obviously wrong it was, how arrogantly the PLCB strutted their innocence after the Auditor General's reluctant statement of legality. Chairman PJ Stapleton had this to say in a letter to Wagner (that he also released to the press, he was so damned proud of it): "We are gratified by your conclusion that we affirmatively and properly dealt with potential conflicts of interest when they arose. "

I don't really remember Wagner saying that. And the only way the PLCB "dealt" with the potential conflicts of interest was by requesting an audit -- which they knew would pass on legality, clearly the only thing they cared about -- after there was a hue and cry about that potential conflict of interest in the press and the governor questioned the contract. That's "affirmative and proper" Pennsylvania.

He goes on about how smart they were to award the contract even after realizing there was a potential conflict of interest:

"The rejection of such a qualified proposal for a service deemed to be necessary and without substantial legal justification would expose the PLCB to litigation. Further, when a properly conducted RFP process produces a qualified bidder at substantially lower cost to the Commonwealth (and I'd still like to know more about why the winning bid was so much lower than the other bids), we are duty bound to regard that as a positive development to be availed, rather than cause for scrapping the process and starting over... Thus, while our two agencies agree as to the goal sought, it appears we have differing perspectives on this particular matter, differences we feel obliged to respectfully note."

Yeah, they have "differing perspectives," all right. The Auditor General clearly said that while what the PLCB did stayed within the letter of the law, it presented grave problems of potential conflict of interest. The PLCB clearly said...they didn't give a damn, it was all about the money.

I just wish that the PLCB would act this arrogant and "I'm a monopoly, I'll do what I want to" when it comes to doing a bunch of pointless "make nice" stuff like changing the names of the stores and "creating a brand." That would save us some serious coin. And I'm sure it would be "legal."

But then, it appears we have differing perspectives on this particular matter.


Rich said...

From the article:

"Given the rules by which the political game is played in Pennsylvania, Wagner had no choice but to sign off on the legality of the deal."

Sorry, but I must not understand, "the rules". Maybe someone can explain what this means. If this were truly an audit, shouldn't it be done completely disconnected from any agency? I would think a third party should do the audit.

Lew Bryson said...

What they mean by "given the rules" and "no choice," is that the ethics laws in Pennsylvania are such that this contract was clearly legal. I noted the same thing in this post ( That's why the PLCB was so co-operative with the investigation: they know the rules of the game, the ethics laws, and they knew there was no way the Auditor General could find that what they had done was not legal. Because the state's "Adverse Interest Act" doesn't say anything about hiring or letting contracts to family members as a conflict of interest. Jaw-dropping.

I can see the appeal of a third part doing the audit, but Rich...they'd probably hire somebody's nephew to do it. And that would be legal, too.

Rich said...

"I can see the appeal of a third part doing the audit, but Rich...they'd probably hire somebody's nephew to do it. And that would be legal, too."

Lew, that's so funny. That would probably cost more than the value of the contract as well. Isn't that what happened with the pay raise scandal...the legal fees involved in the research/audit were more than the actual pay raises.

So, maybe in light of this, "the rules" need to be changed. Not that there isn't enough red tape involved already, but allowing spouses of employees to be involved in the bidding process is way too loose in my opinion.

sam k said...

"Employees of McDonald's, and their families, are not eligible to win prizes."

Wow, it works for burgers and Monopoly money, but not for taxpayers' dough. Go figure.

Lew Bryson said...

See, Sam, if they held the contest and a family member won, and they decided they had to call a do-over on the contest, they'd probably get sued. At least, that's the way Conti seems to think.