Penn State

Penn State Alumni Council election draws attention, interest

Alumni trustee elections start Friday, and for the first time in years, they won’t matter at all.

There are just three seats up for grabs, and instead of the dozens of potential candidates that have become the norm in recent elections, there are just three candidates.

“I’d like to believe it’s a vote of confidence on the part of the alumni,” said trustee Anthony Lubrano, who was first elected by the alumni in 2012 in the uproar of participation after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal and the ousting of legendary football coach Joe Paterno.

Lubrano and Ryan McCombie are running for re-election. Robert Tribeck is seeking the position being vacated by lawyer and former football player Adam Taliaferro.

“It’s the culmination of three years of hard work,” Lubrano said.

What will matter is an election that rarely gets much attention but is making up for that in 2015. The alumni council of the Penn State Alumni Association has 10 seats up for grabs and 32 people vying for them. Four more, all current trustees, including Lubrano, want to be added to the ballots for the election that takes place May 12-31.

The 86-member council meets just twice a year. One of those meetings will happen next week, right before the Blue and White game. When they do, they will vote on changes to its bylaws.

In an April 6 letter to council members, Executive Director Roger Williams talked about some of the recent issues, including a governance change that will put the immediate past president of the association on the university’s board of trustees, something he called “a game-changer,” and litigation over the council elections.

When asked to clarify some of those points, Williams invited the Centre Daily Times to talk.

Williams said that the bylaw changes had been on the table for two years and that the bylaws needed to be changed, with the last tweaks made in 2005.

“There was a lot out of date, a lot that was ambiguous,” he said. There were also new points to clarify, like the trustee seat and some of the director’s duties.

There will also be changes to how someone gets on the council’s ballot.

In the letter, Williams said the volume for this election was “unprecedented” and resulted in 14 of the original candidates who were not placed on the ballot. Two have since been added to the official list of candidates after James Higgins Smith sued the PSAA, resulting in his inclusion along with Elizabeth Ann Morgan.

The new bylaws, Williams said in the interview, would streamline the process, which has given candidates multiple ways to throw their hats into the ring. They could be self-nominated, or get petitions signed. If passed, the new plan will have all candidates come through the nominating committee after one uniform application.

Where Williams will not bend is on the idea of a conflict of interest when it comes to trustees serving on the council and why it is not a conflict for the association to have representation on the board of trustees.

“For us, it is a confluence of interest, not a conflict,” he wrote in his letter.

He stood firm on that idea in the interview.

“We are not equivalent organizations,” Williams said. “We have a mission of service.”

Allowing trustees to be part of the council, he said, would allow “the potential to compromise our autonomy and independence.”

Lubrano could not disagree more.

“I have enough faith that the people will make a decision in the best interest of the alumni association,” he said. “This is quickly and easily resolved. Put our names on the ballot. What do they fear?”

In his letter, Williams told the council that Lubrano and the three other trustees seeking council seats — Ted Brown, Bill Oldsey and Alice Pope — threatened litigation.

“We informed him that our position would not change,” Williams said.

The executive director insists that the alumni council rewards volunteerism with responsibility. The group gives leadership positions to those who have demonstrated commitment and service in other roles.

He says none of the would-be candidates were dismissed because of outspoken positions against the university or the association.

“We represent a broad diversity of opinions,” Williams said.

He also dismissed the idea that, having agreed to place Smith and Morgan on the ballot, that offer could be rescinded.

“He’s on the ballot and we’re not reneging. That’s inconceivable to me,” he said. “We’re not the bad guys here. We’re here to support Penn State.”