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Penn State hire piques conflict of interest concerns

Plus, a small county's big death penalty caseload.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2023
In today's edition: Oversight concerns, death penalty DA, missing hazards, tuition talk, off appeal, party problem, and in defense of candy corn.

Penn State's new general counsel is also head of the university's ethics office, setting up a potential conflict of interest at the state-related school. 

In a news release announcing the decision, Penn State said Tabitha Oman started as vice president and general counsel on Aug. 21 and would continue leading the university’s ethics office until a replacement is hired.

The university gave no timeline for that hire, and some experts say the interim overlap between the roles could lead to oversight problems. 

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Penn State’s new top lawyer will also lead ethics office temporarily, creating potential conflict of interest.

THE CONTEXT: Via Spotlight PA's reporting: 

While some argue the structure saves money and improves communication, others say the two positions can have competing interests — one protecting the organization by limiting liability and the other taking action on potential problems, which could involve notifying outside groups.

Defending its decision, the university noted that Oman will not permanently hold dual roles. In an email to Spotlight PA, a university spokesperson wrote: “This is a temporary measure and we ask that you not draw conclusions or speculate when this arrangement covers a temporary time period.”


"I proudly stand in solidarity with the striking UAW workers with Mack Trucks across Pennsylvania and this country."

—U.S. Sen. John Fetterman (D., Pa.) addressing striking Mack Truck workers in Lehigh County on Tuesday; his upcoming speech at an Iowa Democratic Party dinner is likely to spark higher-office speculation
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» PATH TO EQUITY: Join Spotlight PA for its first in-person summit TODAY from 11:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the Whitaker Center in Harrisburg. Spotlight PA is co-presenting this event with Color & Culture, a Pennsylvania marketing firm. Tickets are on sale at this link until sold out.

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Rail-biking in the Poconos, via @lora_explores. Have a Pennsylvania photo to share? Send it to us by email, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.

A multiperson bicycle on train tracks surrounded by woods and fallen autumn leaves.
Today's top news story in Pennsylvania.CAPITAL CASES: Washington County has 2% of Pennsylvania's population and 22% of its open death penalty cases, according to this TribLIVE editorial. The article followed publication of a Bolts magazine report on Republican District Attorney Jason Walsh, whose brief tenure has coincided with a remarkably high number of capital cases now at the center of his run for a full term in office this November.

Today's second top news story in Pennsylvania.UNACCOUNTED FOR: Researchers looking into the downstream impacts of fracking waste in landfills found another problem. The teams from Pitt and Duquesne University say 800,000 tons of hazardous waste from Pennsylvania oil and gas operations is unaccounted for. Experts told Environmental Health News that poor record-keeping, industry self-reporting, and strapped regulators made it possible.

Today's third top news story in Pennsylvania.COLLEGE MONEY: Hundreds of millions of dollars in state subsidies won't make Pennsylvania's state-related universities more affordable following years of underinvestment, advocates told the AP. A budget season stalemate has stretched well past the fiscal deadline and is impacting state funding for schools like Pitt, Penn State, and Temple. Sticking points include transparency and already high tuition costs.
Today's fourth top news story in Pennsylvania.CURBED APPEAL: The U.S. Supreme Court will not take up an appeal of sanctions imposed on Fulton County, Pennsylvania, officials for 2020 voting machine inspections that violated a state Supreme Court order. Tuesday's decision came a month after the court declined to freeze the sanctions while weighing the formal appeal. A company hired to inspect Fulton County's voting machines says it was asked to lie.

Today's fifth top news story in Pennsylvania.SPOILER WARNING: Democrats are worried about a spoiler candidate impacting the 2024 race for president and they're working to dissuade fence-straddlers from outsider candidates, including those with the centrist No Labels group, The New York Times (paywall) reports. Today, former Gov. Ed Rendell and other high-profile Pennsylvania Democrats are hosting a media call on the third-party "dangers."
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GAINES AT PSU: Collegiate swimmer-turned-trans-inclusive sports critic Riley Gaines said her Tuesday appearance at Penn State was scrapped. Gaines blamed the university for canceling the event, but the school said Gaines missed a reservation deadline. Gaines showed up anyway.

EYEWITNESS NEWS: The AP says newly surfaced eyewitness accounts lend credibility to claims that an overnight FBI dig resulted in a fabled trove of Civil War gold being whisked away by the agency in rural Elk County and circumvented the treasure hunters who led agents to the site.

OFF THE JOB: PhillyVoice's new 76ers beat reporter is out after criticizing a team tweet in support of Israel. The New York Post reports the scribe, Jackson Frank, quoted the team's solidarity tweet and added his own: “This post sucks! Solidarity with Palestine always.”

ICE KINGS: There is a company in Philadelphia that makes high-end ice for cocktails. The Inquirer (paywall) reports the cubes are crystal clear, come in cool shapes, and cost 70 cents (!!) a piece.

CANDY CRUSH: A Pennsylvanian invented candy corn, and the commonwealth has been apologizing ever since. But Instagram's @andimariere says we have nothing to be sorry about.
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