Wednesday, June 20, 2012

More on Contigate

Monica Yant Kinney scorched the two apparently ethically-challenged heads of the PLCB -- Joe Da CEO Conti and PJ "PJ" Stapleton --  this morning in her Inquirer column. It made me think more about this, because she brought up some good points, not least of which was this: why were these guys dumb enough, cheap enough to do this stuff on their State-supplied email and computers...after Bonusgate and the conviction of Bill DeWeese?
Putting in an order for more Phillies tix
It's worth pausing to shudder that Harrisburg remains so clueless about the need to separate public business and political enrichment in the aftermath of Bonusgate and Computergate, the scandals and trials that led disgraced former House Speakers John Perzel and Bill DeWeese to share a prison cell.
Have those who run this state learned nothing about relegating greed to their home networks? Surely these guys can afford a second BlackBerry. After all, Gmail is free.
Apparently they haven't.

I posted this on Facebook, and some have brought up that this kind of thing is common in many industries. Well, sure. I have to say, the booze companies think nothing of this kind of stuff. It's open knowledge that I accept samples -- practically everyone in the business does, even journalists at newspapers with solid ethics codes (when you get samples from everyone, there's no influence to be "nice" to anyone in particular) -- and I've been on junkets to production facilities. Those were only when I had an actual story to write, and believe me, the Caribbean rum trips and cognac trips I've turned down, jeez, I woulda liked to have gone....but that didn't pass my personal sniff test.

I've turned down offers that were just plain over the line. Like Phillies tickets, and concerts. Only time I've ever been in a Phillies box is when I was hired to do a beer tasting in one; only free tickets I've ever accepted were from the Red Cross as a thank-you for platelet donations. I don't do that. I keep it to stuff that will actually, honestly help me do my job by getting me into relevant facilities and areas that I wouldn't otherwise be able to visit. And when I do, I make a point of noting that it was paid for, and I try to write about it as honestly as possible.

The difference is, by the rules these guys acknowledged when they took the jobs, all of that kind of thing is illegal and unethical. They are government officials, in charge of a retail monopoly, and therefore have to play by different rules. Apparently they forgot that, and yes, that does make you wonder about the "culture" at the rest of the agency...especially an agency that's been the subject of multiple special audits in the past few years for possible ethics violations (that found that while the agency had met the letter of the law, the spirit of the law was bent or broken).

Does all this have anything to do with privatization? Does it say anything about the agency and its mission? Or is it, as one State Store clerk and union rep told me, simply an ad hominem attack on the people at the top, and has nothing to do with the State Stores? Stepping aside from his misunderstanding of the ad hominem fallacy, I would argue that even so, there is a direct relationship between the agency and the behavior of its leaders...particularly given that the same kind of ethical violations took place at another, very similar agency (the North Carolina ABC, see below), and that, as I mentioned above, this isn't the first ethical question that has come up at the agency.

This is an independent agency. It answers to no one directly. The Governor can't fire Joe Da CEO, he can only ask the Board to do so, and has made it clear that the Board has defied him on that (something they did to Ed Rendell fairly regularly). The Legislature can't make the PLCB do anything without changing the Liquor Code, something they've shown very little stomach for -- at least, any effective change. The PLCB has its own judges (lazy though they apparently are), its own police agency (yes, under the State Police, but at the PLCB's beck and call; it's called the Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement, after all), and most importantly, its own budget. The Legislature can't even cut off their funds, the usual method of reining in a rogue agency.

The PLCB has grown to be lazy, arrogant, and wasteful. The administrative costs of the retail operation are out of control; there are fewer stores and more employees than there were in 1999, for example. It is a patronage pit; Conti's job alone proves that. Privatization will cure that. The regulatory functions will run cleaner without the contradictory retail function, or they could easily be assigned to other agencies (as suggested here and here), which would save even more money.

We'll have to take it to the Capitol before this is over.
The Legislature may have dropped the ball...again. Doesn't mean we have to. I'm working on a plan of action, and hope to have it up here shortly. This is opportunity, people: Turzai's shit plan HB11 has failed. We need to press our desires home to the Governor's office, but they won't give a damn if we don't give a damn.

Read that quote up to the right, the one that's been here since the day I started this blog. It's the truth, and it's the only way we'll get this done.
"...there was [in 1997] no overarching passion within the General Assembly, or in the public at large, for privatization. Unless and until there is a general hue and cry, it is very unlikely there will be a privatization initiative that succeeds." -- John E. Jones III, former PLCB chairman


Anonymous said...

Lew, you are quick to point out how the liquor and wine trade should be managed in PA. But from the looks of it you can't even manage your own weight. With all the smoking,drinking,weight gain, and failed business models you are behind. Let's face it you are probably not the best person to get direction from. You are actually hurting the cause.

Lew Bryson said...

Post your real name and someone might care, anonymous coward.

Anonymous said...

I must agree with anonymous. You really have not been a good self appointed spokesman.

Lew Bryson said...

Anonymous agrees with Anonymous. Amazing.

Anonymous said...

And BTW you do look pretty stupid with that camera on you head.