In the past three years, Penn State alumni have witnessed the most incredible flurry of lawsuits in the university’s storied history.
I want to tell you about one that had a happy ending.
When I was first elected as a Centre County commissioner in 1987, I inherited a lawsuit filed by the county against Penn State and its real estate tax-exempt status. In the years that followed, the case found its way up and down the Pennsylvania court system from the local level to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
After years of negotiation and numerous trips to Old Main, we signed an agreement with Penn State in which the university agreed to provide almost $1 million annually in real dollars, as well as equivalent services, to local municipalities.
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The county, the State College school district and all six municipalities in the Centre Region benefited. To date, that agreement has meant tens of millions of dollars to Centre County governmental agencies.
This process was highlighted by local and county officials telling Penn State administrators how the university affected our governmental operations and, in turn, Penn State telling the municipalities that it was, among other things, the economic engine driving central Pennsylvania. It was an incredible learning process at both ends.
I mention this case, in part, to explain my independent candidacy for election this spring to the Penn State board of trustees.
The current board has very successful individuals, and the current slate of candidates has a wealth of talent. None of them, however, has the unique experience I have of serving 28 years in public office as a Centre County district judge and Centre County commissioner.
I know Penn State in ways no other candidate does simply because of my close proximity to the university and my knowledge of its operations as I worked in the county seat and in the state capital.
For 11 years my wife, Kimberley Bierly, was Penn State’s national television marketing specialist. When I accompanied her on trips, I would see Penn State’s best and brightest on CBS, ABC, NBC and CNN.
My favorite “green room” experience in those days was when the other two guys in the room were Jesse Jackson and George Will. I have seen some of Penn State’s best days and some that have not been very good.
Lawsuits remain, and it will take the university time to heal. If I am fortunate enough to be elected as a Penn State trustee, I will remember the words of Bobby Kennedy from my college days: “The future is not a gift. It is an achievement. Every generation helps to make its own future. This is the essential challenge of the present.”
That is a challenge I am willing to meet.