Penn State

Ballot access may not end lawsuit vs. Penn State Alumni Association

The Penn State Alumni Association agreed to add two excluded candidates to the ballot for this year’s alumni council election but that is not automatically calling an end to the dispute around those seats.

James Higgins Smith Jr. is suing the association in Centre County court after his name was left off the ballot for 10 of the 86 seats on the alumni council. According to court documents, on Monday, association Executive Director Roger Williams wrote him a letter agreeing to add both Smith and another excluded candidate, Elizabeth Ann Morgan.

“I trust this will resolve the matter,” Williams wrote.

Smith isn’t sure about that. He will be discussing the future of his suit with his counsel but despite the association’s legal filing that insists the revised ballot makes the suit moot, it still leaves several unanswered points, including five more would-be candidates.

“The question is really why would the alumni association...exclude Beth Morgan and I? Why exclude the alumni-elected trustees? Why exclude Jay Paterno?” he asked in an interview with the Centre Daily Times. “I think the answer to that is that each of those people has been outspoken about their dissatisfaction with the old guard trustees.”

The four alumni-elected trustees that sought seats on the council are Ted Brown, Anthony Lubrano, Bill Oldsey and Alice Pope, all of whom have been regular voices of criticism and dissent on the board of trustees. Among the actions they have questioned is the inclusion of the immediate past president of the association as a voting trustee under the newly passed governance changes.

Paterno is a former assistant football coach and the son of a campus legend, the winningest coach in Division I football history, now that Joe Paterno’s wins have been restored by the end of dissolution of the NCAA’s post-Sandusky sanctions. Paterno is part of two lawsuits against Penn State.

Smith and Morgan have also been critical. Smith signed his name to a disapproving ad. Morgan is listed as a member of the board of directors for watchdog group Penn Staters for Responsible Stewardship.

“It’s not a simple oversight. It’s not a simple disregard for the bylaws. It’s not that someone hadn’t read them recently,” said Smith. “It appears to be a concerted effort to control who is on the ballot.”

Smith said that he attempted to run for the seat in more than one way. He submitted a self-nomination before the Oct. 1 deadline. He also got petitions as well but said he also met problems attempting to submit them and get confirmation they were received.

“Getting on the ballot was not the only request. I’m asking for the alumni association to follow its own bylaws and for the election to be fair. This is a member organization. Shouldn’t every member have a choice?” Smith said.

Lubrano agrees. He said that he has already told Williams that there may be another suit filed by the four trustees.

He dismisses suggestions that it would be a conflict of interest for the trustees to be on the council and points to the fact that when PSAA President Kay Salvino takes her seat as a trustee, she will also be a member of the association’s executive board.

At this month’s board of trustees outreach committee meeting, Brown attempted to engage Salvino in a discussion on the conflict issue.

Lubrano said he has been told by Penn State attorneys that there is no conflict.

PSAA asked in the court filing that Smith’s case be dismissed with prejudice.