Wagner report in hands of PSU trustees, state legislators

Outgoing s tate Auditor General Jack Wagner said his 30 recommendations to increase transparency and accountability at Penn State are now in the hands of the university’s board of trustees and state legislators.

And he said he’s willing to sit down with anyone from those groups to discuss further those recommendations, which include increasing the number of board members who must be present to conduct business and limiting board members to serving nine years total.

But most important is the first chapter of the 119-page report, which recommends removing the university president as a member and secretary of the board, Wagner said during a meeting Tuesday with the CDT editorial board.

“The president has been all-powerful for far too long,” he said. “That’s not the way it’s supposed to work at a public university.”

In light of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal, Wagner discussed initial recommendations in late July, including those related to the university president, and released a full, nine-chapter report this month. He said he hopes that trustees, legislators and the governor all will become advocates for the changes he recommends, and said he’s confident auditor general-elect and current state Rep. Eugene DePasquale will carry forward the report.

Rep. Scott Conklin, D-Rush Township, has spoken in favor of the changes and gained 18 co-sponsors earlier this year on legislation that would implement some of Wagner’s suggestions, including removing the president from the board and applying the state Right-to-Know Law to all four state-related universities.

Wagner said he and Conklin spoke Tuesday and that they hope to sit down for a conversation about the report and legislation.

Tor Michaels, Conklin’s chief of staff, said Conklin will reintroduce that legislation when the new session begins in 2013.

“We hope to have more support come January,” he said.

Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship, the group of alumni, students and other supporters of change, also plans to sit down soon with Wagner to discuss the recommendations.

“Generally speaking, we are in support of a change in composition,” said spokeswoman Maribeth Roman Schmidt. “Anything that helps remove the current composition of the board, we would be in support of.”

Schmidt said it was premature to make any specific comments on the report, including the recommendation of removal of the university president from the board.

“We understand that it’s based on a conflict of interest in having him sit on all the committees and be a voting member,” she said, but as a group, PS4RS has not reached a position on that.

Wagner said his office is concerned that the university “is still in this mindset that they don’t have to be publicly accountable” and that, by receiving any public money, they should be.

“This is the public’s university,” he said. “This isn’t how the board thinks it should function, it’s how the public thinks it should function.”

He said that, since January, he’s met with university President Rodney Erickson, former counsel Cynthia Baldwin, and several board members. He said there has been “minimal communication” since his staff hand-delivered report copies to each member.

However, Wagner said he still would meet with them and would appear before the entire board, if requested. As of Tuesday, the board had not asked for that meeting.

“The olive branch is out there for the board,” he said.

When and if the board will take it is unclear, according to a statement Tuesday from university spokesman David LaTorre.

“The (u)niversity continues to review the auditor general’s report,” he said by email. “We cannot comment further at this time.”

Wagner said he didn’t know how Penn State functioned a year ago and that, for a child sexual predator to remain undiscovered for so many years, “there had to be serious problems” in university operations.

“It has to be a new day at Penn State University,” he said. “It’s the best signal they could send.”