Board of Trustees

Sunshine Law complaint filed against PSU trustees

Penn State trustees are being charged with violating state Sunshine Law after an announcement regarding Clery Act fines.
Penn State trustees are being charged with violating state Sunshine Law after an announcement regarding Clery Act fines. CDT, file

Did some Penn State trustees violate a state law? One alumnus thinks so.

Ryan Bagwell, a 2002 graduate with dual degrees in journalism and music, keeps an eye on things that are happening at Penn State since the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal broke in 2011. In 2012, he ran for trustee. In 2014, he sued for access to documents.

Now he is turning his sights to a possible criminal question.

On Nov. 28, the Melrose, Mass., man sent a private criminal complaint to Centre County District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller, alleging violations of the Sunshine Act.

Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Law governs how a public entity can operate in the public eye, dictating what meetings must be open, what can be closed and why.

“The allegations pertain to two violations of the Sunshine Act by certain members of the subcommittee of Penn State’s board of trustees,” he wrote.

The violations stem from the university’s response to federal Department of Education fines for compliance issues with the Clery Act, a rule that dictates disclosure of security and crime statistics and information on campuses. The $2.4 million fine dwarfed the next largest Clery penalty issued, which was $357,000 to Eastern Michigan University in 2008.

On Nov. 3, when the fine was announced, officials said the report would be reviewed before comment. On Nov. 25, President Eric Barron said the fine would not be contested.

Bagwell bases his case on a Philadelphia Inquirer article that claimed alumni-elected trustee Bill Oldsey wrote to Barron about reconsidering, with Barron responding that “the university would stick to the legal subcommittee’s decision not to appeal.”

The problem? There is no record of a subcommittee meeting.

The last meeting of the committee on legal and compliance was the morning the report was released. The committee did note an executive session for “privileged review and discussion of pending litigation.”

Bagwell’s complaint accuses the university of both taking official action at a meeting not open to the public and conducting deliberations at such a meeting.

If true, the violations would constitute a summary offense and prompt a fine from each member.

Penn State spokeswoman Lisa Powers said the action was aboveboard.

“The decision to accept and pay the Clery fine was a university decision made by President Eric Barron. The decision was reviewed with board leadership and with the legal subcommittee of the board, but approval by the board or any committee or subcommittee was not required,” she said.

Lori Falce: 814-235-3910, @LoriFalce