Monday, February 4, 2013

Joe Conti's Greatest Hits

Joe Da CEO - 12/13/06 -- 2/2/13
Joe Conti's gone, and we're somewhat sorry to see him go. He was, as the alliteration-happy Commonwealth Foundation might put it, The Autocrat of Arrogance, King of The Kiosks, notorious Nabob of Nepotism, and the Duke of (Tone) Deafness. He will be back as a consultant, of course -- he is also the Prince of the Public Trough -- so we have hope that he'll still deliver us a final Endowment of Embarrassment!

In the meantime, here are our most fond memories of Joe Da CEO, and what he did to further the cause of privatization of the State Store System, along with a range of 1-20 points for each incident's CONTI score (that's Corruption, Oblivious-to-Consequences, Nepotism, Thick-Wittedness, and Insider-itis). Plenty of links to the blogposts that describe them too, and I have to say, they're some of my favorites. It was so much fun to rant about Joe Da CEO.

Joe's Job. Conti's CEO position was created out of whole cloth by Governor Ed Rendell, and apparently filled without advertising, without any other candidates being interviewed, and without any real clue on why it was needed. Here's the story. That might explain why Conti seemed to do nothing for the first two years he was in the position (though we were told he spent that time..."planning").
Score: 4. More about Joe, than it is Joe...but the shape of things to come.

Dr. Rendellstein's Monster. This was a minor incident, but one of my favorites, because it illustrated just how overly-independent the PLCB is. Rendell hears about the original TableLeaf "rebranding" idea, and has Conti in to talk about it. "The governor expressed his opinion that the PLCB stores as currently named were recognizable and had a brand value of their own and he strongly discouraged PLCB from attempting to change the names of the stores... The governor was vocal in making his opinion known." Conti recalled the meeting differently. "[Conti] described the meeting with Mr. Rendell as "more a directional discussion" covering a wide range of topics. "The governor was delighted with everything he saw," said Mr. Conti." Just amazing.
Score: 8. A small gem of Continess.

Playing Restaurant Favorites. On Conti's watch: the PLCB opened a mini-winestore inside Garces Trading Company, Jose Garces deli/grocery. Really kind of cool...and really kind of unfair to all the other BYOs in Philly who would love to have a little winestore in-house, but never got asked (except when Conti allegedly offered one to Stephen Starr...see below). No more have opened, and Garces has distanced himself from the concept.
Score: 9. Tone-deaf, but Conti was not too publicly vocal about it. 

TableLeaf. He spent a lot of money on it for no understandable reason: rebranding a legal, police-enforced monopoly? When that got too ugly, he changed his mind and taped it on the front of a PLCB-created "house" wine brand. And then, when people got pissed off that the house brand was deliberately undercutting private winemakers...he lied about it.
Score: 10. Classic Conti characteristics, but a fairly small affair; an extra point for some bold lying. 

Fighting Privatization. Despite noting several times that it wasn't his job to fight privatization -- that was all up to the Legislature! -- Conti spent a lot of public time doing just that. One of the best was during this Legislative hearing, where he did what he does so well. He lied (about how much money privatization would "lose" the State, and about the results of the PLCB's internal review of the wine kiosks), he blustered, he threatened, and he obfuscated...all of it while fighting the idea of privatization, which he said he wasn't there to do.
Score: 11. No corruption, just doing his job. Wait...he said it wasn't his job. It's confusing.  

How many wine kiosks did you want?
The Death of the Wine Kiosks. Almost as much fun as the spectacle of the Wine Kiosks themselves was Conti's complete loss of reality-grip when the The Invincible Wine Robot Army (see below) was finally defeated at the Battle of Wegmans. Faced with total annihilation of his cherished idea, and the utter commercial failure of the misbegotten wine automata, what was Conti's reaction? "It certainly wasn't a failure." "I still think there is merit to the program." "It didn't end up successful, but we learned a lot and we will end up better for it."
Score: 13. Would have been higher, but no nepotism or (detectable) corruption. Just arrogance and stupidity. 

The Courtesy Contract. If you've forgotten...the PLCB let a contract (on a low-ball bid) for "Improving basic customer service skills" to a company run by the husband of a PLCB regional manager. Conti's watch, and he loved it: "This is a vast adventure, and it's one we have to take," he said And the training was ridiculous, probably unnecessary (there was a customer complaint once every 288,000 transactions...), and ineffective: customer complaints actually went up after the training. And Conti decided to continue it. The Auditor General said: "Although this contract was awarded according to the letter of the law, there are several incidents that occurred that raise serious concerns and put the PLCB's procurement procedures in question." Conti's reaction? Vindication. Classic.
Score: 14. No obvious personal corruption. And the nepotism was someone else's... 

The Wine Kiosks (AKA The Invincible Wine Robot Army). The most amazing idea that could never work. Here's a video of just how ridiculous they were in case you'd forgotten:

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Conti oversaw this Carnival of FAIL from the initial flawed idea, through the single-bidder contract (to the completely inexperienced company that was heavy with contributors to Gov. Rendell's campaign), through overriding the advice of a PLCB internal review to reject the idea (which he then lied about to a Legislative hearing) to the bloated execution (which hid costs) and the eventual disaster that was the implementation. You can see most of that here.
Score: 18. Close to perfect, but no obvious nepotism.

Contigate. According to the state Inspector General, Conti accepted Phillies and Union tickets from PLCB vendors and "lobbied" vendors and restaurateur Stephen Starr for a job for his daughter; Conti may also have hinted in the same conversation with Starr that maybe Starr could get one of the sweet in-store PLCB "winebox" pop-up stores like Jose Garces got (and NO ONE ELSE seems to be able to get). And...he was dumb enough (or arrogant enough; your pick) to use his State-issued Blackberry to do the business.  Score: 20. Doesn't get much more Conti than this.

Ah, Joe, was great to have you around. It kept the fight interesting, and kept it fair, too. I mean, it was just 2/3 of the citizens of the Commonwealth vs. the UFCW and the Legislature! But you and your great ideas like the wine kiosks kept us going!

Too bad the PLCB's dumb enough to hire you back at $80 an hour as a consultant. Yeah, really, they are...on an official "emergency" basis. That's a move so dumb you'd almost think it was Joe's... Score: 22.


Anonymous said...

You could point out that it is EMERGENCY rehiring.

Lew Bryson said...

Good God, you're right. I'm slipping. Thanks!