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Despite Jonathan Newman’s public vow less than a month ago to work with the man recently named chief executive of the state agency he’s led since 2002, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board chairman has announced his resignation in a strongly worded statement. Newman, who is of counsel at Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel in Philadelphia, had opposed former state Sen. Joe Conti’s appointment to the newly created, $150,000 CEO spot – an organizational shift backed by Gov. Edward G. Rendell. Conti, a Bucks County Republican and former restaurateur, was one of a number of Pennsylvania lawmakers who voted in favor of the widely criticized pay-raise legislation in the summer of 2005 and then opted not to run for re-election that November. In pushing for the hire of a PLCB chief executive, Rendell pointed to the spiraling costs being incurred by the agency, which generates millions of dollars in revenue for state coffers and employs more than 4,000 Pennsylvanians. “This organization needs a CEO,” Rendell said last month, according to The Associated Press. “Do you know of any $1.7 billion company that doesn’t have a CEO?” Rendell also said at the time that he had repeatedly told Newman to seek help running the PLCB, and that the board’s increasing expenditures had raised “a huge red flag.” Newman voted against Conti’s installation, criticizing the size of his putative salary and the seeming secretiveness surrounding the appointment. But his fellow board members – former Easton mayor Thomas Goldsmith, a Republican, and Democrat Patrick Stapleton III, a western Pennsylvania-based partner at Weber Gallagher Simpson Stapleton Fires & Newby – backed Rendell in the 2-1 vote. “It has become abundantly clear to me during the past few weeks that this administration is adamant in standing by its decision in hand-picking a CEO without any true process whatsoever that is consistent with transparency and good government,” Newman wrote in a resignation letter released by his office yesterday. “There was no public discussion about whether the decision to bring in a CEO was appropriate, no national search process to find the best qualified individual, and no opportunity for public comment or media scrutiny before this rushed decision was completed.” He went on to state that since the board’s full-time responsibilities “have been abrogated,” there’s no justification for his continuing to receive his roughly $65,000 PLCB salary. “Part-time board members from other control states like Oregon receive per diems for participation in board meetings that would now certainly be more appropriate in Pennsylvania given the fact that the day-to-day and other important responsibilities have been removed,” Newman wrote. In his own written statement issued yesterday, Rendell thanked Newman for his efforts and announced that Stapleton would succeed him as chairman. The son of recently retired state Supreme Court justice Sandra Schultz Newman and nationally renowned plastic surgeon Julius Newman (who died in 2005), Jonathan Newman graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1987. After an unsuccessful run in the 1998 Republican primary for a U.S. Congress seat covering a large portion of Montgomery County, Newman was appointed to the PLCB by then-Gov. Tom Ridge in 1999 and named chairman in 2002, not long before Rendell took office. In the past several years, Newman has been applauded for his efforts to create a customer-friendly atmosphere in a system of state liquor stores often derided for their lack of je ne sais quois. Supporters say that Newman, through his “Chairman’s Selection” program, leveraged the state’s monopoly on wine sales to consumers’ benefit in a campaign to lower prices on wines from well-respected vineyards. In 2003, Wine Enthusiast magazine named him its “Man of the Year.” Newman publicly acknowledged that the PLCB’s expenses have gone up in the past year or so, according to The Associated Press. But he indicated that the increase was attributable to natural organizational growth, such as heightened payroll costs. Newman did not indicate in his resignation statement any future career plans. He did not immediately respond yesterday to a call seeking comment on his departure. “One way you could interpret this is a vote of no confidence,” G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College, said of Newman’s decision. Madonna noted that unlike with many public official resignation statements, Newman’s did not cite any familial concerns as influencing his stepping down. “In the end, a lot of this stuff just gets personal,” Madonna said of the behind-the-scenes drama within the PLCB. Local Republican political consultant Jeff Jubelirer of Ceisler Jubelirer said he suspects Newman believes he wouldn’t be as effective a chairman of the PLCB with a chief executive in place. “I think he may have felt that perhaps he lost some autonomy in his role,” Jubelirer said. He called attention to the fact that Newman’s response to Conti’s appointment won him praise from both newspaper editorial boards and good-government types. “I think he would be a very popular statewide candidate, should he be interested,” Jubelirer said.

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