Saturday, July 12, 2014

Boards no place for lawmakers

February 16. 2013 2:26AM
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ROBERT MELLOW, the ex-state senator who is expected to plead guilty next month to public corruption charges, recently resigned from the boards of two organizations – paid posts for which he never should have been considered.

Mellow, 70, of Peckville, officially severed ties last week with Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania, a major health insurance provider based in Wilkes-Barre.

Earlier this month he stepped away from Penseco Financial Services Corp. and its subsidiary, Penn Security Bank and Trust Co. For his service to the bank in 2010, the most recent year for which records are available, the then-senator collected $30,750.

Residents are right to question why a lawmaker paid with their tax dollars purportedly to make decisions with their best interests in mind also earned a healthy sum to do business on behalf of other entities with narrower – and potentially conflicting – interests. While legal, it reeks.

Responsible organizations need to re-examine their processes – and motivations – for picking board members, particularly in light of the ongoing, federal corruption crackdown in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Do the region's many boards truly value the insights of Harrisburg lawmakers? Or are the corporations merely trying to curry favor to nab potential state grants and possibly gain an ally during legislative debates that affect their operations?

Ethically, shouldn't boards sidestep any negative public perceptions simply by not seating elected officials at the table?

Practically, shouldn't a law be passed to prevent it?

Mellow retired in November 2010, after 40 years in the Senate. Investigators allege that he illegally used Senate staffers to perform political campaign and fundraising work on state time. Under the guise of the Friends for Bob Mellow organization, prosecutors say, the scheme brought in hundreds of thousands of dollars for Mellow's campaign and those of fellow Democrats.

One can't help but wonder if some of those donations resulted from "friends of Bob Mellow" that he acquired by way of rubbing elbows in boardrooms.

Neither lawmakers nor anyone else should treat board memberships like an extension of the Rotary Club, where professionals sometimes seek to make business contacts for their own benefit. Sadly, that's a distinction not enough people make upon becoming a director.

Mellow's situation shows why Pennsylvania needs to ban lawmakers from accepting board positions.


organizations need to re-examine their processes – and motivations – for picking board

members …

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