Regis Becker was appointed to serve as Penn State’s first chief ethics and compliance officer in 2013. He reports to Finance and Business Vice President David Gray.
Becker wrote a June 18 letter to the Centre Daily Times, in response to Barry Fenchak’s June 4 letter and Lee Samuel Finn’s June 10 letter regarding whistleblower intimidation at Penn State. Becker urged “anyone who has witnessed or suspects illegal, unethical or unsafe conduct to report it promptly so that it may be addressed” and stated that “the university will not tolerate wrongful conduct.”
To test the hypothesis that David Gray, and the Office of Finance and Business, are exempt from ethical oversight, I asked Becker to investigate the highly conflicted land flipping cycle between Penn State, Toll Bros. and BNY Mellon, and the highly conflicted rezoning cycle between Penn State, the Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors and the Centre Region Planning Commission.
Both are essential elements of the current Penn State-sponsored endangerment of public water supplies serving 75,000 State College-area residents: the Harter and Thomas wells owned and operated by the State College Borough Water Authority.
By email Thursday, Becker stated that he will “begin an inquiry.”
The ethics and compliance investigators — and perhaps the dissidents on the board of trustees — may find the following facts useful in their work.
In 1999, Penn State bought roughly 26 acres of the now 45-acre parcel near the intersection of Whitehall Road and Blue Course Drive, from the RK Mellon Foundation — a subsidiary of BNY Mellon — for $99,307. At the time, it was zoned rural agricultural.
In 2004, Ferguson Township supervisors rezoned the 26-acre parcel to R4-multifamily residential, in response to an application from Penn State submitted by Dan Sieminski, and against the strong objections of regional planners Sebastian DeGregorio and Robert Crum. As a Penn State finance and business administrator, Sieminski reports to David Gray.
On May 4, 2012, the Penn State board of trustees entered a sales agreement with Toll Bros. (dba Springton Pointe LP) to sell the 45-acre site for $13.5 million. At the time of the trustees’ sales approval, Karen Peetz was serving as chairwoman of the board of trustees and vice chairwoman of BNY Mellon — and BNY Mellon was the seventh-largest shareholder in the Toll Bros. corporation.
The 2004 zoning change by the Ferguson Township supervisors added roughly $13,400,000 to the market value of the land.
On Sept. 20, 2013, the Penn State board of trustees added an adjacent 5.5 acres, zoned rural agricultural, to the $13.5 million sale to Toll Bros.
In fall 2014, RK Mellon Foundation gave a $250,000 grant to ClearWater Conservancy for two years of streambank restoration projects. At the time, ClearWater board President Steve Miller was also serving as a member of the Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors, which was then beginning its review of the Penn State/Toll Bros. development application. Miller is now the interim executive director of ClearWater, since Jennifer Shuey resigned, and still a Ferguson supervisor.
Other Penn State-affiliated members of the current ClearWater board include: Steve Maruszewski, assistant vice president for physical plant, who reports to David Gray; Erik Foley, managing director at Penn State’s Sustainability Institute; Kelleann Foster, associate professor of landscape architecture; and Margaret Brittingham, professor of wildlife resources.
ClearWater has made no moves to stop the project as a threat to public drinking water supplies.
Toll Bros. plans to charge $500 to $900 per bed per month for Penn State students to live at the development. Annual anticipated rental income to Toll Bros. and investors, at an average $750 per bed per month, times 1,093 beds, times 12 months per year, is $9,837,000.
Toll Bros. is currently planning to use the 5.5 acres added to the sales package in 2013 for stormwater detention. The 5.5-acre parcel sits outside the 2013 Regional Growth Boundary/Sewer Service Area. The 2013 Centre Region Comprehensive Plan identifies the land as agricultural security land to be preserved for agricultural uses. Stormwater detention is not a legal use of RA land under the Ferguson Township zoning code. (Chapter 27, Section 301), yet township supervisors — including Steve Miller — have made no moves to stop the project as illegal.
High-density development is not a COG-condoned activity on land outside the RGB/SSA, under the Centre Region Comprehensive Plan. Steve Watson, a Penn State planner, also serves as chairman of the Centre Regional Planning Commission (CRPC). Watson, as an OPP employee, reports to David Gray.
The CRPC has made no moves to stop the project as incompatible with regional planning frameworks. Watson has also canceled the June and July CRPC meetings; CRPC has not met since May 7, when Bob Hoffman, College Township CRPC representative and the commission’s liaison to the State College Borough Water Authority, reported on SCBWA concerns about drinking water endangerment.
The land sale is not yet final and can be stopped by Penn State. The sale is contingent on successful permitting for the development, which is still under review by the Ferguson Township Board of Supervisors.