PSU trustees to vote today on decisions already made
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The executive committee of Penn State University's board of trustees will meet in special public session today to "formally approve" decisions announced three weeks ago after questions were raised about whether those decisions violated the state's open meetings law.
The committee, which will meet on the University Park, Pa., campus, is expected to formally accept the resignation of Graham Spanier as president; affirm the firing of legendary football coach Joe Paterno and ratify selection of Rodney Erickson as the university's permanent president, Penn State spokesman Geoff Rushton said Thursday.
A news release announcing the 8 a.m. conference call meeting was issued nine days after the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette formally asked the state's flagship public university to show documentation of formal votes concerning several recently announced decisions, including one naming Mr. Erickson as the school's permanent president.
Mr. Rushston said Penn State is aware of concerns raised about Sunshine Act compliance. The trustees decided on the advice of their general counsel to meet "to correct any procedural irregularities there might have been and [ensure] the actions are in compliance with state law and university bylaws," Mr. Rushton added.
The news release said the committee was meeting to formally approve decisions announced by Penn State the week of Nov. 6.
In another announcement that week, Penn State said it created a special investigative committee to examine Penn State's handling of child sexual abuse allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, whose arrest came five days before the departures of Mr. Paterno and Mr. Spanier.
Both men had faced growing criticism over the university's failure to report to law enforcement authorities allegations that Mr. Sandusky sexually assaulted a boy in a locker room shower of the Lasch football building on campus in 2002.
Fritz Byers, an attorney for the Post-Gazette, said personnel matters can be discussed in executive session, if properly convened, but the state's open meetings law, or The Sunshine Act, requires that action be taken only at a public meeting.
"The Post-Gazette is unaware of any public notice of a meeting of the Board of Trustees for the purpose of taking any of these actions, and is likewise unaware of any public meeting having been convened for the purpose of taking these actions," Mr. Byers wrote in a Nov. 22 letter to the board's office.
To date, the university had not replied to that letter.
Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, told the Post-Gazette on Nov. 19 that an announcement that day that Mr. Erickson had been elevated from interim to permanent president raised Sunshine Act compliance issues.
Earlier Thursday, a Penn State spokeswoman, without referencing the Sunshine Act, said trustees faced extraordinary circumstances and "needed to act swiftly and decisively on the personnel matters announced Nov. 9 and reported at the public meeting on Nov. 11."
"While the board believes immediate action was necessary, it is holding a special, pre-announced public meeting of its Executive Committee on Dec. 2 to reaffirm and ratify those personnel decisions," university spokeswoman Annemarie Mountz said.
The executive committee's nine members include Steve Garban, who also serves as chairman of Penn State's full board. The 8 a.m. conference call meeting will take place at the Nittany Lion Inn.
First Published December 2, 2011 12:00 am