The Penn State Alumni Association and the four university trustees who wanted to be on the alumni council ballot differ on many points surrounding the election. That is what brought them into Centre County court on Tuesday.
Perhaps the most pointed difference is that both sides see a totally separate issue at the heart of it all.
Rodney Beard, attorney for alumni-elected trustees Ted Brown, Anthony Lubrano, Bill Oldsey and Alice Pope, laid out his case for President Judge Thomas King Kistler.
“It’s really a fairly simple case,” he said.
For his clients, it all comes down to the fact that when they submitted self-nominations to the association, applying to join the 86-member governing board, they met the requirements of being Penn State graduates and members of the association. They filed their forms on time and asked if there was anything else they had to do.
They were told no, that everything was in the hands of the nominating committee.
“My assumption was my name would appear on the ballot and we were good to go,” Oldsey said.
That was in October. Then, in January, they were told they were not among the 30 people approved for the 10 available seats.
That might not seem unusual, but Kevin Barron, the association’s director of volunteer services, confirmed on the witness stand that since 1996, only one other potential candidate has not been placed on the ballot, and that was because he wasn’t a member of the organization.
Beard said the problem was that the association changed its rules in the middle of the process. Executive Director Roger Williams confirmed that, at the April meeting of the council, new bylaws were adopted that changed the requirements for alumni council seats, excluding any trustees or administrators, current or emeritus.
“There were bylaws in effect,” Beard said. “They have to play by the rules that were in effect at the relevant time period.”
Alumni association attorney Michael O’Mara said it all comes down to eligibility, and the trustees are specifically ruled out now.
Williams said the rule change was not a response to the trustees’ lawsuit, which had been filed days before. He told the court it had been talked about for months, since November or December. The trustees’ applications were submitted by the Oct. 1 deadline.
O’Mara was open about the change being in response to the trustees’ interest.
“As soon as it came up, the nominating committee said, ‘We’re not comfortable with that,’ ” he said.
And, O’Mara told the judge, they are allowed to do that and there isn’t really a recourse for the trustees.
“There are always disgruntled people,” he said. “There are always people in the minority unhappy with how things are done.”
Kistler asked both parties to submit supporting documents by Monday. A decision on the case is expected quickly because alumni council voting occurs next month.
The alumni association will be back in court Wednesday to face off with James Higgins Smith, who sued to be included on the ballot when he was also excluded, although the association has already added him and Elizabeth Morgan to the list of candidates on the website.