- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 23, 2018

DOVER, Del. (AP) - A longtime Democratic House lawmaker who opted not to seek re-election this year has taken a $95,000-a-year job as deputy director of Delaware’s lottery office, state officials announced Tuesday.

Department of Finance officials announced Helene Keeley’s hiring just one day after Chuck Boyce, chairman of the New Castle County Republican Committee, filed a Freedom of Information request concerning her potential hiring.

“It appears that Rep. Keeley has found a soft place to land inside state government following her years of service,” Boyce said in statement Monday that drew comparisons with former state Senate president pro tem Patti Blevins. Blevins was hired as state animal welfare director last year after she lost a re-election bid in 2016.

“If this widely-held rumor is true, it is another example of the soft corruption that plagues our state under one-party rule,” Boyce said.

State Finance Secretary Rick Geisenberger on Tuesday dismissed suggestions that political favoritism played a role in the hiring of Keeley, who starts her new job on Nov. 12.

“This position was not created for her, but we decided … she was an excellent candidate for it,” Geisenberger said. “We approached her, she did not approach us.”

Geisenberger described Keeley as “absolutely qualified” for the lottery job, noting that she has served on the House Gaming and Parimutuels Committee and is past president of the National Conference of Legislators from Gaming States.

“She’s been involved in gaming issues a long time,” he noted.

Geisenberger said that, after becoming finance secretary last year, he was surprised to learn that the lottery office did not have a deputy director, a position he said was common in most divisions of state government. He said he worked with budget and human resources officials to create the position last October by reclassifying a vacant assistant director post.

Geisenberger said lottery director Vernon Kirk talked to three or four people about the job, while he reached out to a couple of people himself. Kirk ultimately suggested last May that Keeley might be a good fit, and Geisenberger approached her a week or so later.

“I wasn’t necessarily looking for this,” said Keeley, adding that she was struggling at the time with whether she wanted to remain in the legislature, and that she had become well acquainted with the gambling industry during her years in the General Assembly.

“It’s something that I’ve had a lot of interest in,” she said.

Keeley accepted the post on June 14.

Five days later, and barely a month after filing for re-election, Keeley, who was first elected in 1996, announced that she would be retiring from the House at the end of her current term. Keeley said she believed it was time for someone else to represent her south Wilmington district. She did not mention that she had taken a new state job paying more than her two current $46,000 salaries as a House member and as a community relations coordinator for the state Department of Labor.

The following week, Keeley was marked “absent” as House lawmakers have approved a tax cut for Delaware’s three casinos, whose operations are overseen by the lottery office.

Keeley said she did not mention her new job when she announced her retirement from the legislature because she had not yet talked to labor department officials about her decision.

“I hadn’t had the opportunity to talk to my boss about leaving. I doubt very much that Vernon had the opportunity to talk to his staff,” she explained.

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