Penn State

Ballot hijinks alleged in 2014 Penn State agriculture trustee vote

Jess Stairs
Jess Stairs

For months, it has been Jess Stairs who has been talking about how the 2014 election of agricultural trustees to the Penn State board went wrong.

Now Penn State is firing back, accusing the man who is suing for a seat on the board of bad behavior.

In documents filed in Centre County Court on Tuesday, Kenneth Argentieri, attorney for the board of trustees, responded to Stairs’ suit with a new matter.

According to the filing, Stairs “obtained at least five credential cards” from the Clarion Forest Venango Farm Bureau.

CFVFB received nine credential cards instead of the three it should have received, Argentieri stated in his filing.

Three authorized representatives — Barbara Schill, Brittany Courson and Ethel Horner — were designated to use three cards to cast votes in the agricultural trustee election. Schill and Courson would vote as Clarion County delegates and Horner would represent Forest County.

“During the investigation in the events surrounding the (e)lection, the (u)niversity discovered that Ms. Schill, the secretary of the CFVFB and one of its authorized delegates, took with her the CFVFB’s extra credential cards. She had signed the credential cards but the delegates’ names were not filled in,” Argentieri wrote.

“Mr. Stairs asked Ms. Schill to give him the extra credential cards, which she reluctantly gave him.”

The university’s claim is that three of the cards were given to unauthorized delegates to vote as Venango representatives, another was given to Stairs’ daughter to represent Clarion and a fifth went to an unauthorized delegate to vote for Forest.

Stairs’ position has been that three Grange delegates seized the ballots for Venango County, disenfranchising the Farm Bureau representatives from that county.

According to the documents, the university’s investigation showed that was not true, although the filing does confirm that the three Grange delegates did vote.

The three Venango delegates with unauthorized CFVFB credential cards did not vote or attempt to vote, Argentieri’s filing states. However, it does say that the other two delegates did vote, representing the other counties, but those votes went unnoticed at the time because neither county had more than its three allotted votes.

“Plaintiff’s claims must fail as a result of (p)laintiff’s willful misconduct and the doctrine of unclean hands,” Argentieri wrote.

Stairs narrowly lost the second agricultural seat to Betsy Huber. He is suing the board to have her and Board Chairman Keith Masser removed from office and to be placed on the board himself. Masser was the other agricultural trustee, winning the most votes in the election.

Stairs’ attorney and CFVFB’s president were contacted for comment, but had not replied.