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There's A 'Pattern' Of Politically Connected People Getting Appointed To State Gaming Control Board

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
An analysis by Spotlight PA found half of those appointed to the state's Gaming Control Board have government or legislative ties, or have been lawmakers themselves.

On today's program: The state board tasked with licensing and overseeing casinos has become a “golden parachute” for some lawmakers and the politically connected, explains Spotlight PA reporter Angela Couloumbis; and a palliative care social worker tells us what it means to die well, and why the pandemic is making it harder for her to support patients.


Many well-connected people are appointed to the state’s Gaming Control Board

(0:00 — 9:08) 

The Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board is sometimes called, in jest, the “golden parachute” for out-of-work Harrisburg legislators. 

Democrat Frank Dermody lost his bid for a 16th term in the state House last November. Three months later he was appointed to a $145,000 a year job as on the board. 

Last week Frances “Fran” Regan, the wife of Republican state Senator Mike Regan, became a member of the board as well.

“What we started seeing over time is there seemed to be a pattern of very politically connected people getting named to this board,” says Angela Couloumbis, investigative reporter for Spotlight PA. She reported that out of 31 appointments to the board, 16 members have been employees in state government, the legislature, or been former lawmakers. 

Couloumbis says the appointment can be a boon to one’s retirement benefits: the state calculates them, in part, based on years in service and the three years where one made the highest salary. Gaming Control Board members make $145,000 a year, which is much more than even legislators in leadership make.  

“Unlike other appointments by the governor in particular, these appointments to the gaming control board do not require confirmation in the Senate,” adds Couloumbis. “They’re not vetted publicly, at least in the chamber, and there’s no real way for the public to assess who’s being interviewed, and what their qualifications are ahead of time and to weigh in on those selections.” 

The appointment of Dermody was announced by press release, but Couloumbis found the appointment of Frances Regan was much quieter. 

“I think it raised some eyebrows, because ‘Fran’ Regan is the spouse of a state senator who is up-and-coming, and at the very least has aspirations for higher office,” says Couloumbis. The person who selected Regan justified the choice, citing her background in law enforcement. However, Couloumbis was never given Regan’s official title, though she was told Regan worked for nearly 25 years in federal probation offices. 

Couloumbis says there have only been two instances so far where family members of influential people have been appointed to the board: Regan’s recent appointment; and that of the woman she replaced, Merritt Reitzel. Reitzel was the sister-in-law of former Senate President Joe Scarnati’s chief of staff. 

Couloumbis says it doesn’t seem likely the process of appointments to the board will change, but it’s possible more people will pay attention to the process. 

What does it mean to ‘die well’? With one’s values, says a palliative care social worker.
(9:15 — 18:00)

An unexpected death of a loved one can be particularly hard, and with the pandemic affecting every part of our lives, it’s not any easier to plan our own end-of-life care. 

But there’s a growing movement of palliative and end-of-life care professionals working to normalize death and the planning for it. 

If one is experiencing a life-limiting illness, or has a family member with one in a hospital setting, they might encounter a licensed social worker specializing in palliative care, like Tanisha Bowman.

“Oftentimes, especially in the in-patient hospital setting, [we’re brought in] when things aren’t looking great and we need to decide where to go next, we need to decide what the goals are,” says Bowman.  

She says this process includes conversations with the patient and family about goals, like if they want to continue treatment in a hospital setting, or go home. 

“There is an ideal death experience for each individual person, and it doesn’t look the same for anyone,” says Bowman. 

She gives the example of dying at home: home may be where we are most comfortable, but dying there may not be something everyone wants. 

“I’m also a trained ‘death doula’ which essentially is someone who sits with someone who is dying and holds space, whatever that looks like for them,” says Bowman. “Listening to stories, passing on stories, helping them with legacy projects that they can pass on to family members they can remember them by.” 

Bowman says the pandemic has complicated her job offering palliative care because there’s such limited contact between herself and families. “It is really, really hard to ask a family member to make end-of-life decisions based on a situation they can’t physically see themselves.”

Bowman is also part of the “positive death movement,” in Pittsburgh aiming to normalize conversations about death and helping people determine their goals ahead of time. 

“Most people don’t have these conversations in a timely manner,” says Bowman. “If we talked about it, like we talk about going to the grocery store, it would be completely different.”

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

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