Board of Trustees

Penn State ag trustee beef is argued in court

Jess Stairs
Jess Stairs

A hearing Wednesday in Centre County Court tried to get to the bottom of a dispute between a would-be agricultural trustee and Penn State.

Jess Stairs was a candidate for one of the two agricultural association trustee seats up for election last year. Stairs claims he was defeated by an improper vote in Venango County that led to trustee Betsy Huber winning by a single vote.

Defense counsel Kenneth Argentieri argued that Stairs was not the right person to bring the suit.

According to Stairs, the Venango County election went against the rules when delegates from the Grange seized all the ballots and voted rather than caucusing with the three delegates from the Farm Bureau to decide which delegates would be voting. Only three delegates may vote in each county, but Venango had three from each agricultural society for a total of six.

“The Farm Bureau are the ones with the proper standing, the ones who had a direct and immediate impact,” said Argentieri. “Do they have a beef? Does he have the right to argue they were disenfranchised?”

Plaintiff’s attorney Dean Piermattei took aim at the defense’s attempt to remove board President Keith Masser from the suit. Stairs had requested, as relief, that both Huber and Masser, who won the other seat by 35 votes, be removed and that a new vote be taken. Argentieri said that because he won by such a large margin, Masser did not need to be a party to the action.

“He was chairman at the time. I don’t know if he was involved in the investigation or made the decision. To say he should be dismissed at this time is premature. His rights would be affected. He has to be a party, “said Piermattei.

The two sides also clashed on the length of time it took for Stairs to file the suit. Argentieri said it was not done in a timely fashion. Piermattei said his client had taken steps from the day of the election and that any foot-dragging delaying the case was the fault of defense.

Judge Pamela Ruest did not issue a ruling in the case Wednesday.