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City manager awarded himself $357K in bonuses

Plus, how Herm Suplizio remade DuBois and what went wrong

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This is The Investigator, a free weekly newsletter with the top news from across Pennsylvania.
A weekly newsletter by Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom producing investigative journalism for Pennsylvania.

November 9, 2023 | spotlightpa.org
Inside story, election results, Clery Act, ballot errors, justice area, more transparency, Mississippi miracle, frack effects, and sheriff's sale.

Herm Suplizio, the suspended DuBois city manager, capitalized on powers from key positions he held, as well as a network of unlikely political connections and the trust he amassed in the community, to gain almost unfettered access to millions of dollars in taxpayer and nonprofit funds. 

A new Spotlight PA investigation for the first time tells the inside story of how Suplizio remade this small city while allegedly ripping off his neighbors.

Also this week, Democrats swept the races for seats on Pennsylvania's appellate courts: Supreme, Superior, and Commonwealth. See more election results below.

Finally, the U.S. Department of Education is looking into Penn State's compliance with the Clery Act after a student's questions about campus crime and timely warnings.


"Unbelievable. ... My mind is blown.”

—Greg Primm, a past president of the Pennsylvania association that advocates for professionalism and ethics in local governance, on the amount of bonuses given out by suspended DuBois City Manager Herm Suplizio

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» RESULTS REVIEW: Join us, the New Pennsylvania Project, and Pennsylvanians for Modern Courts on Thursday, Nov. 16 from 6-7 p.m. for a Q&A on the election results. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org.
» Voting machines in Northampton County printed ballots with errors in two judicial races

» Pa. has updated how it defines an ‘environmental justice area.’ Here’s why that matters for at-risk communities.

Penn State students push for transparency around sexual violence data

Last month, a Penn State student asked the U.S. Department of Education to investigate the university for denying student access to campus crime statistics, a potential violation of the Clery Act. The federal law requires universities to publicize certain crime data and notify the community when these crimes present an ongoing threat.

A Penn State spokesperson, in a statement, said the requests “should have been granted.”

The student’s decision to go public with his allegations, and the university’s response, in some ways mirrors the experiences of other students who have pushed for greater transparency around sexual violence at Penn State in the past decade.

In 2015, then-President Eric Barron accepted all 18 recommendations of a special task force on sexual violence, which included surveying the campus about the subject every three years. Penn State conducted the first survey in fall 2015 and released the results in April 2016. 

But by early September 2021, the university had yet to release the fall 2018 survey results. Student leaders met with administrators to push for the document’s release, said Nora Van Horn, a 2022 graduate and former member of the Gender Equity Coalition, an advocacy group at Penn State. 

When those efforts failed, the students went public.

“The university only moves under pressure, and especially under public pressure,” Van Horn told Spotlight PA.

In September 2021, nearly 700 students, alumni, employees, and community members signed an open letter from the Gender Equity Coalition. The letter charged Penn State with not taking the issue seriously, saying the school had agreed to conduct the surveys as nothing more than a “positive-publicity effort.”

Penn State released the survey data several weeks later, attributing the delay to “staffing limitations” and the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2018 results showed little improvement from 2015 in the percentage of University Park students reporting nonconsensual sexual encounters — 1 in 3 undergraduate women and 1 in 4 undergraduates overall reported being a victim of unwanted touching, penetration, or attempted penetration. (The percentages in the 2022 version of the survey at University Park were similar.)

The survey results show that the official number of crimes contained in Penn State’s annual security report, or reported in the daily crime log, do not represent the true scope of the problem at the university, said Sonika Kohli, a senior and president of the Gender Equity Coalition.

A Penn State spokesperson told Spotlight PA recently that the university is aware that sexual violence is underreported across the country and especially on college campuses.

“Penn State is committed to fostering a safe environment for all students that is free of sexual misconduct and gender-based harassment or violence,” the spokesperson wrote in an email.

The 2022 survey found that, among undergraduates, nearly half of women, nearly two-thirds of men, and half of gender-diverse students did not tell anyone about their experience with stalking, domestic violence, or nonconsensual sexual contact. Wyatt Massey, Spotlight PA State College

🏆 NEXT QUESTION: Did you stay on top of the news this week? Prove it with the latest edition of The Great PA News Quiz: Election results, swapped votes, and a Hollywood celeb’s pet plea
This week's top news story in PennsylvaniaPROJECTED WINNERS: Democrats Cherelle Parker and Sara Innamorato are the projected winners in races for Philadelphia mayor and Allegheny County executive, respectively — roles with larger constituencies than some governorships. Public safety was an issue in both contests. Parker has struck a tough-on-crime tone in Philly, but polling suggests a city divided on the best approach.
  • RELATED: Working Families Party notches another historic Philadelphia City Council win, via Billy Penn
  • Zappala wins 7th term in Allegheny County district attorney race, defeating Dugan, via WESA
  • If vote count holds, Democrats will lead Dauphin County for 1st time since at least 1919, via PennLive
  • GOP sweeps two Lancaster County school board races; Dems sweep a third and earn seats in a fourth, via LNP (paywall)
This week's second top news story in PennsylvaniaCHILLING EFFECT: PublicSource reports the University of Pittsburgh has pressed charges against several nonstudent protesters who disrupted a public Board of Trustees meeting in September while advocating for more LGBTQ support. Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, called the charges extremely rare and capable of having a chilling effect.

This week's third top news story in Pennsylvania'MISSISSIPPI MIRACLE': Pennsylvania lawmakers are eyeing rules that would require more aggressive interventions by schools if students fall behind in reading, pointing to the large share of fourth-grade students here who are currently below targets and the success reported with similar measures in Mississippi, WESA reports. But other states with the same policies in place have seen smaller bumps.

FRACK EFFECTS: A Grist piece titled "Pennsylvania’s fracking boom is hurting its oldest residents" includes the story of 80-year-old Mary Ellen McConnell, who bought a home in Bedford County just to see it overrun by fracking decades later. Now, she says her water is full of arsenic and her health is failing. “Up until 10 years ago, I was a pretty healthy bitch,” McConnell added. “And, unfortunately, I’m dying.”

SHERIFF'S SALE: The Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office owes millions of dollars to people whose homes were auctioned off, an attorney told The Inquirer (paywall). The office is supposed to pay former homeowners any excess funds from sheriff’s sales within 40 days. Instead, The Inquirer reports they often find themselves stonewalled.

» AP: Pa. partners with natural gas driller on air and water monitoring

» CNHINew acts signed by Gov. Shapiro end ban on religious garb

» MORNING CALLMack Trucks workers could vote on offer next week

» PENNLIVE: Deaths in Pa. jails are undercounted

» WHYY: Dems flipped a school board embroiled in controversy

Send your answers to riddler@spotlightpa.org.

TEST TERMS (Case No. 225)The first two letters signify a male, the first three letters signify a female, the first four letters signify a great, while the entire world signifies a great woman. What is the word? 
Feeling smart? Challenge a friend.

Last week's answer: Dozens. (Find last week's clue here.) 

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