The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

August 23, 2013

Some question promotion of attorney general’s sister

HARRISBURG — Ellen Granahan, a deputy attorney general, had more than just a passing rooting interest in the 2012 campaign to elect her boss: Granahan’s twin sister, Kathleen Kane, was the Democratic candidate.

Kane, a Democrat from Lackawanna County, won and became Pennsylvania’s first elected female attorney general. And her sister’s boss.

Three months after Kane took office, Granahan was quietly promoted and given a $13,652-a-year raise.

“While AG Kane would never promote Ellen because she is her sister, neither would she discriminate against her on that basis,” said Joe Peters, a spokesman in the attorney general’s office.

Granahan was hired in 2008 by then-Attorney General Tom Corbett. A Corbett spokesman declined to comment about Granahan’s promotion.

Granahan is not the only well-connected prosecutor in the attorney general’s office. Corbett’s daughter, Katherine Corbett-Gibson, also is a deputy attorney general. Corbett-Gibson was hired by Attorney General Linda Kelly after Corbett took office as governor, said Nils Fredericksen, a spokesman in the governor’s office of general counsel.

 “(Granahan) was recently selected to head the Child Predator Unit because she is the most qualified and experienced attorney in terms of child sexual abuse matters,” Peters said.  “The CPU is a priority for Attorney General Kane, and Ellen shares that passion and commitment.”

Granahan is one of 20 chief deputy attorneys general in the office, each of whom leads a division. Granahan’s pay of $83,423 a year is the lowest of the chief deputies, according to a spreadsheet of salaries provided by the attorney general’s office.

The state office of administration, which provides human resources services for many state agencies, does have a management directive barring state employees from being in situations were they report directly to a relative, said Daniel Egan, an office of administration spokesman.

“That’s the minimum standard,” Egan said. “Some agencies go further and prohibit family members anywhere in the chain of command, direct or indirect.”

The attorney general’s office is independent and is not bound by that directive, he said.

Peters said that one of the first tasks undertaken after Kane took office was to sort out potential conflicts of interest and come up with a strategy for dealing with them. In Granahan’s case, the solution was to assign all of her management to Adrian King, first deputy attorney general, Peters said. King then decided that Granahan should be promoted, he said.

State Ethics Commission Executive Director Robert Caruso said that there is nothing in the state ethics act that would have dealt with the situation in which Granahan worked in the office before Kane was elected and became her boss. However, the ethics act might be relevant if there are questions about Kane’s role in determining that Granahan deserved the promotion.

“That’s the $10,000 question,” Caruso said.

The ethics act states that public officials cannot use elected office for personal financial gain for themselves or family members.

The approach taken in the attorney general’s office is the typical manner used to try to shield elected officials from perceived conflicts of interest when relatives are being hired in their offices, Caruso said.

 “There has to be a barrier,” Caruso said.

But even so, it is tricky to determine whether the public official is influencing the hiring decision, no matter who makes the actual hire, said Eric Epstein, who leads the government watchdog group Rock the Capital.

“The boss may not be the one who made the promotion, but in the back of the mind of the person doing the hiring, they know it’s the boss’s relative,” Epstein said. “And it would certainly make it an uncomfortable Thanksgiving dinner if one sister asked the other why she didn’t get the promotion she wanted.”

The promotion of her sister comes after Kane ran on an ethics platform that was critical of the way previous attorney generals (including the current governor) managed the office, Epstein said.

 “I’m not saying it’s unethical, but the appearance is unsettling,” Epstein said. “You are looking at a bright gray area.”

Nathan Benefield, director of policy analysis at the Commonwealth Foundation, saw little gray.

“If Kathleen Kane had anything to do with promoting her sister, it is a pretty clear conflict of interest under state law,” Benefield said.

“Unfortunately, Pennsylvania’s laws on nepotism are among the weakest and worst enforced in the nation, and this sort of thing goes on all the time – the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission being a prime example of nepotism and patronage run amok,” Benefield said.

Kane might have been better served to publicly disclose her sister’s relationship at the time Granahan was promoted, Epstein said.

“It’s a unique situation. We don’t want (Granahan) to lose her job just because her sister got elected,” Epstein said, noting that Granahan’s qualifications suggest she may be perfectly suited for the job.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News
  • Halfway house inmates can ease back into society

    Prison life can be a time warp.
    When inmates are locked away – for months, years, decades – society moves forward: Technology evolves, major events occur, pop culture changes. From a personal perspective, families and friends live their lives: weddings, funerals, graduations, births, retirements. All the while, criminals bide their time, existing in a regimented world of cement walls and metal bars.
    Almost all of them eventually rejoin society, though.

    April 19, 2014

  • Crime board took aim at house

    Johnstown’s unemployment rate is around 8 percent.
    One-third of the city’s population lives in poverty.
    Burglaries and assaults significantly increased between 2010 and 2012. There is a thriving illegal trade in heroin and prescription drugs.
    Given those conditions, it can be challenging for Johnstown Community Corrections Center residents to find jobs when living in the facility or to avoid falling back into a criminal lifestyle upon their release.

    April 19, 2014

  • Homicides linked to center

    Three homicides that took place in Johnstown last year involved either a suspect or victim who previously resided in the Community Corrections Center.
    Police Chief Craig Foust confirmed the name of one victim, who spent almost two months in the facility on Washington Street during 2007, a time period verified by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

    April 19, 2014

  • bachota Volunteers helping to spruce up community

    Walls and ceilings inside the Cambria County Library look clean and bright with fresh new coats of paint on them.
    The work was recently done by inmates from the Johnstown Community Corrections Center.

    April 19, 2014 2 Photos

  • alanna Hartzok targets income disparity

    Alanna Hartzok described herself as being a conservative progressive.
    The Franklin County resident said she is in favor of conserving environmental resources, education opportunities, Social Security and Medicare, while wanting to progressively address wealth inequality, health care and taxation.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Schools rise to leadership challenge

    Forest Hills and Cambria Heights high school students put the spirit of healthy competition toward a good cause and picked up some lessons in leadership along the way.

    April 19, 2014

  • KATEY LADIKA Student’s photos win awards

    A Forest Hills High School junior has captured several awards in a high school arts and writing contest that has identified greats such as Truman Capote and Andy Warhol.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Jim Siehl JIM SIEHL | Music to my ears

    Seldom has $15 produced such a high level of entertainment as it did a few weeks ago when I found myself in the second row just left of center keeping back the tears once again during my third live performance of “Les Miserables.”

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Michele Bender Bye, bye, Easter birdies

    Animals fascinated my mom. Riding the train between Johnstown and Philly, she saw horses, pigs, sheep, cows … a Mattel See ’n Say of farm critters.

    April 19, 2014 1 Photo

  • Bill Eggert Columnist Photo Travelogue of terror features Johnstown area

    A historic week will surround the venerable Silver Drive-In come the beginning of May.

    April 19, 2014 2 Photos

Poll

Would you like to see the Johnstown Community Corrections Center remain open after its lease runs out on Oct. 11, 2015?

Yes
No
I'm not sure
     View Results
House Ads