Delaware lawmaker Keeley gets newly created $95,000-a-year lottery post

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Outgoing state Rep. Helene Keeley will move right into a newly created $95,000 post as deputy director of the Delaware Lottery. (Steve Ruark/AP, file)

Outgoing state Rep. Helene Keeley will move right into a newly created $95,000 post as deputy director of the Delaware Lottery. (Steve Ruark/AP, file)

On June 30, the last day of Delaware’s legislative session, outgoing state Rep. Helene Keeley told WHYY she had not accepted a job as director of the Delaware State Lottery.

A tipster had told WHYY days earlier that Keeley, who was not seeking re-election, had been appointed to oversee the state-sponsored gambling operations at racetrack casinos and stores that sell lottery tickets and sports betting cards.

Her denial was a firm no, one seconded by top aides to Gov. John Carney.

What Keeley and administration officials didn’t tell WHYY, however, was that two weeks before a reporter inquired, she had accepted the post of deputy lottery director.

The post, which pays $95,000, was only created last fall and Keeley will be the first person to hold the job, state finance officials said Tuesday in announcing her appointment. No one else was interviewed for the job.

Keeley apologized Tuesday for not being more forthcoming. But she insisted that would have jeopardized her managerial job in the state Department of Labor.

“I had not talked to my boss. I had not talked to my staff. I have projects that I want to complete,” she said., “I had not talked to constituents in my own district. The Republicans can say whatever they want. But if I had accepted that position right then and there the state would have had to have a special election based upon the time.”

Keeley and Carney are fellow Democrats in a state dominated by the party.

Carney spokesman Jonathan Starkey referred questions Tuesday to the state finance office.

Keeley will start her new job Nov. 12, just six days after Election Day. Her successor in the legislature, fellow Democrat Sherry Dorsey Walker, who has no general election foe, will take Keeley’s long held Wilmington-area 3rd District House seat on Nov. 7.

Delaware Lottery director Vernon Kirk appointed Keeley with the consent of Delaware finance secretary Rick Geisenberger, a Carney appointee.

Geisenberger said in a written statement that Keeley’s 22 years as a state lawmaker, during which she served on Delaware and national committees on gaming, made her a perfect fit. She will oversee a number of functions, including finance, human resources, technology and security.

“Helene has been a strong booster of Delaware’s casino and horse racing industries and a great advocate for maintaining a sound regulatory environment that enables gaming to remain an important contributor to our state’s economy and revenues,” Geisenberger said.

“The Delaware Lottery Office will be well served by her industry knowledge and more than 30 years of experience managing and driving improvements in the administration of diverse organizations.”

Lavelle: ‘This has to stop’

Geisenberger had sought the new position by reclassifying another vacant position, spokeswoman Leslie Poland said.

“Given the agency’s size [56 employees], budget [$54 million], total general fund revenues generated [$212 million], and total responsibilities in administering and regulating Delaware’s increasingly complex $4.5 billion gaming industry, the secretary determined that a deputy director’s position was both a critical operating need and an appropriate allocation” of resources.

State Sen. Greg Lavelle, an upstate Republican seeking re-election, criticized Keeley’s appointment as the latest in a long line of plum jobs given to lawmakers by recent Democratic administrations. Dating back to 1992, Carney and the three previous governors — Tom Carper, Ruth Ann Minner and Jack Markell — have been Democrats.

“This has to stop,” Lavelle said. “For years, Democratic elected officials have used their power to enrich themselves personally, gain more and higher pensions, and otherwise benefit themselves. From former state Sen. Patti Blevins to former state Rep. Mike Barbieri to countless others, we have become a state plagued by insider dealings.

“The media has been making inquiries into this poorly kept secret for months now and, like the taxpayers of Delaware, has been lied to and misled … Sadly the question isn’t when will this stop, but more likely who will be next.”

The news release about her appointment noted that Keeley is vice chair of the House Gaming and Parimutuels Committee and an “active leader” of the National Conference of Legislators from Gaming States, where she was president from 2014 to 2016.

This is Keeley’s second executive branch job in state government. She has been at the Department of Labor for 14 years, where she currently manages daily operations for the Business Services Unit of the Division of Employment and Training. She had previously spent 16 years with Rosenbluth International, which provides travel management services for corporations.

“These positions have provided her with a wealth of experience in policy and procedures, human resources, technology and security issues, as well as with managing multi-million dollar budgets,” the release from Geisenberger’s office said.

Poland said Kirk first suggested Keeley for the post in mid-May after unsuccessful outreach to other possible candidates. Keeley had initially filed for re-election but on June 19 — five days after she accepted the lottery position — Keeley announced she would not seek a 12th two-year term.

“For many years, Helene Keeley has been an important partner in helping our agency provide a safe and sound regulatory environment for public gaming in Delaware and indeed the nation,” Kirk said in the news release. “So I’m pleased and excited to have her join the great management team we have here at the State Lottery Office.”

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