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Ex-PSERS chief kept key info from board, report says

Plus, Pa. congressional stock trades raise ethical questions.


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Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
February 2, 2022
The news gets a bit heavy (and the winter a bit cold). So this February, we're giving you the chance to tell the entire state of Pennsylvania about someone (or something) you love. That's right — share the love.

We're launching our first-annual Share the Love event. Here's how it works: Make a contribution to Spotlight PA for $50 or more using this special link (yay vital journalism ❤️) and type your shoutout in the "I am contributing because..." box on the donation page.

We'll then include your message in a special section of PA Post we've set aside for the entire month of February to feature nothing but love, appreciation, gratitude, fuzzy feelings, butterflies ... you get the idea.

The floor is yours — get started now. Together, we’ll make February feel a little warmer. 

— Colin Deppen, PA Post editor
PSERS report, on the outs, money in politics, budget beefs, trade offs, and PSU pressure. It's Wednesday and Groundhog Day ... again. 
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The former top official at Pennsylvania's largest pension was warned the fund's profit figures might be too high but instructed his senior staff to keep the information under wraps, an internal investigation found.

Spotlight PA and The Inquirer report the decision by then-PSERS chief executive Glen Grell set the stage for the board to vote to certify an incorrect and exaggerated sum for its investment performance — a costly mistake for teachers and one that triggered an ongoing criminal probe. 

(PSERS is an acronym for the Public School Employment Retirement System, a $73 billion, taxpayer-backed pension fund for public school retirees.)

Grell's legal team said he did nothing wrong and made the right decision because the warning was not the "consensus" view at the time.

THE CONTEXT: The inquiry that revealed Grell's omission was led by a law firm PSERS hired to probe issues at the center of a parallel federal investigation into fund's botched profit figures, real estate deals, and more.

And while the internal investigation uncovered no evidence of criminal activity, the resulting report is critical of a consultant that played a key role in the calculation error and failed to fully cooperate with investigators.

The law firm leading the investigation said unlike federal prosecutors, it lacked subpoena power and could not force the consultant's participation.

Find more coverage of the PSERS scandal in Spotlight PA's archive.


"I figured, 'OK, this was just an oversight and they'll correct it.' I was wrong to give them the benefit of the doubt."

—Libertarian Kevin Gaughen, who won the election for Silver Spring Township auditor but says officials won't seat him because they hired someone else
We all have a lot of love to give. So for all of February, we at Spotlight PA are giving you the chance to share a message of love, gratitude, or appreciation with absolutely anyone. And we'll feature it here, for the entire state to see.

Here's how it works: Make a donation of $50 or more to Spotlight PA using this special link, put your shoutout in the "I am contributing because..." box, and we’ll include it in a special section of our PA Post newsletter. 
Send some love to a Pennsylvania business, a person, an animal, an animal that reminds you of a person, or your favorite reporters (👋). Make someone feel good, brighten a day, and support Spotlight PA at the same time.
» AGE GROUP: Pfizer-BioNTech is expected to ask the FDA to approve its COVID-19 vaccine for children aged six months to five years.

» RULE CHANGE: PennLive reports COVID-19 rules have been dramatically relaxed in the state Capitol, but mask rules there remain "all over the map."

» PEAK WATCH: Officials with UPMC, one of the state's largest health systems, say omicron cases appear to have peaked in their hospitals.

» CASE COUNT: Officials say COVID-19 cases are dropping at York County Prison, but the people imprisoned there say testing is in short supply.

To find a COVID-19 vaccine, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your zip code to 438829 (GETVAX).
Snowflakes on a windshield in Lancaster, and each one unique, just like our PA Posters. Thanks for the photo, Nichole H. Send us your gems. Use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
PREEMPTIVE STRIKE: Lancaster Township's Republican Committee chair resigned as fellow members prepared to remove him over an opinion piece that criticized a conservative group known for false and inflammatory statements about elections and COVID-19. LNP reports Joe Mohler specifically objected to the county GOP planning to provide members of the group, FreePA, with "election training."

MEGA MONEY: New campaign finance reports offer a fresh look at the war chests fueling this year's incredibly important and equally expensive race for U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania. Among the highlights, via the AP: Lt. Gov. John Fetterman still leads the Democratic fundraising pack, Mehmet Oz is spending millions of his own dollars on his GOP bid, and other notable candidates are struggling to keep up.

BUDGET TALK: In one week, Gov. Tom Wolf will give his last budget address to a joint session of the legislature. Democratic lawmakers want the spending plan that follows to include a historic, $3.7 billion bump for Pennsylvania schools bankrolled, in part, by unspent federal pandemic relief dollars. But Republicans in the majority warn against dipping into the surplus and are already balking at the proposal, per WHYY.

STOCK JOCKS: Amid a push to ban stock trades by federal lawmakers, The Inquirer examined the stock activity of Pennsylvania's federal electeds. The paper found investments in defense contractors and fracking companies by a progressive Democrat who notably opposed a fracking ban, and Bitcoin investments that were followed by pushes for legislation to stabilize crashing crypto markets.

PSU VOTE: Three candidates are running for seats on Penn State University's highest governing body in an effort to diversify the mostly white, mostly male alumni board of trustees, the Daily Collegian reports. The candidates include an atmospheric scientist and nonprofit founder, an educational equity advocate and former Black Caucus president, and an OB-GYN and anti-sexual violence proponent.
DEJA VU: Today is Groundhog Day. And that means crowds will gather at Gobbler's Knob in Punxsutawney before dawn to hear a mostly inaccurate rodent with a Cameo page decide the next six weeks of our lives. The prediction happens around 7:20 a.m. Watch the livestream here.

COOKIE CUT: As promised, we vetted the state's "Official Groundhog Cookie Recipe," which promises 72 medium-sized groundhog cookies from just two cups of flour, and got 48 cookies or roughly 66% of that amount.

'TEENIE' TIME: Fifty images from photographer Charles "Teenie" Harris' quintessential catalogue of Black life in 20th century Pittsburgh are on display this Black History Month for free in Pittsburgh's City-County Building. 

CASH IN HAND: Philly will give up to 60 people $500 a month for at least a year in an experiment aimed at testing no-strings-attached cash payments as an anti-poverty tool, per WHYY. A similar pilot is planned in Pittsburgh.

TIL: The software engineer who just sold Wordle to The New York Times for seven figures originally created the game as a pandemic distraction for his partner and he. Find our Wordle-adjacent offering below, created just for you.
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.

*This week's theme: Words that start with the letter "B"

Yesterday's answer: Bewilderment 

Congrats to our daily winners: Becky C., Bonnie R., Don H., Michelle T., Doris T., Patricia M., Vicki U., Briann M., Susan N.-Z., Eddy Z., Marty M., Barbara F., Susan D., Myles M., Kimberly S., Ted W., Elaine C., George S., Rachel K., James B., Craig W., David W., Jude M., Cindy G., Mike B., Michael D., Keith F., Dianne K., Bill S., Suzanne S., Kim C., Kimberly B., Lex M., Pat B., John  A., and Elizabeth W.
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