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Private Penn State trustee meetings may violate law

Plus, Pa. officials brace for a wave of election lawsuits.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA

Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
September 16, 2022
Private meetings, election suits, drop boxes, pressure campaign, premature explosion, exclusion list, and the death of an ex-lawmaker. It's Friday.
WE'RE ALMOST HALFWAY TO OUR GOAL, and we need to end this week strong to stay on track toward our goal of reaching 500 pledges by Sept. 24 in support of our vital public-service election reporting.

As a special bonus, the Lenfest Institute for Journalism has offered to match every single dollar you contribute as part of this campaign.

Can I count on your support to keep us on track?

We know you care about the future of our state, and we know you understand what's at stake this election. Put your money to work at this critical moment to help fellow Pennsylvanians make an informed vote this November. We can't do this work without you.

Thank you!

— Colin D., PA Post editor

Pennsylvania State University’s Board of Trustees may be violating state law by regularly meeting in private.

The board’s executive committee exists “to transact all necessary business” that could occur between regular meetings, Wyatt Massey of Spotlight PA's State College bureau reports.

But despite a requirement that the committee’s meetings and agendas be made public, its last public meeting was more than a decade ago.

Read Spotlight PA's full report: Regular private meetings among top Penn State trustees may be violating Pa.’s transparency law.

THE CONTEXT: A spokesperson for the board told Spotlight PA the private meetings are permitted under a provision of the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act that allows officials to gather for “conferences” without public notice or other transparency measures.

But a media law expert said the university's explanation — that the committee is just reviewing agendas and doing planning — is “inconsistent with the law.”

“The law recognizes that most of the deliberation, and most of the real work on a particular issue, is farmed out to the committee,” said Melissa Melewsky of the Pennsylvania NewsMedia Association, of which Spotlight PA is a member.

"If you cut the public out of that process, all you see and participate in as the public is the end result and you’ve lost your opportunity to help shape public policy."


"It's been frustrating work. I've been introducing legislation to amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act and to change our hate crimes statutes for years."

—State Rep. Dan Frankel (D., Allegheny) on his ongoing efforts to toughen the state's hate crimes laws and extend protections to more people
The upcoming fall election will be pivotal to the future of Pennsylvania, and Spotlight PA is delivering trusted, nonpartisan reporting, guides, events, and more to empower voters to make an informed choice at the polls. But this vital public-service journalism depends on your support.

We need to reach 500 gifts by Sept. 24, and as a special bonus, all donations will be DOUBLED. Help us reach this goal by making a contribution now.

Thank you to the 165 people who have given so far, including Jim M., who said, "Love your reporting." Join Jim and contribute to Spotlight PA now »
» THE STATE OF PA ELECTIONS: Join us Thursday, Sept. 29 at 6 p.m. ET via Zoom for a free Q&A with Acting Secretary of State Leigh M. Chapman, who oversees elections in Pennsylvania. Chapman will discuss how her agency secures and runs elections, explain the state's voting policies, and answer all of your pressing questions ahead of Nov. 8. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
A quick guide to all of Spotlight PA's 2022 election coverage:

»  How Spotlight PA will cover Pennsylvania's 2022 election
»  Your complete guide to the candidates for governor
»  Where Mastriano, Shapiro stand on LGBTQ rights

Support Spotlight PA's vital election coverage by making a gift now.
» AL DÍA : Shapiro ad targets Latinos during Hispanic Heritage Month
» AP: Oz, Fetterman both target suburbs in key Pa. Senate race 
» INQUIRER: GOP focuses on crime to put Fetterman on defense
» NBC NEWS: Doctored videos exaggerate Fetterman speech issues » NYTIMES: Fetterman says stroke has not slowed down campaign
» REUTERS: What election deniers could do in 2024 if they win
Last gasps of summer at Raystown Lake, via @mar_sees_lifeSend us your photos, use #PAGems on Instagram, or tag @spotlightpennsylvania.
NEXT WAVE: Officials are preparing for a wave of litigation related to this November's pivotal election, with the state on pace to spend at least $3.3 million in taxpayer money this year defending against these lawsuits. WHYY reports the Department of State is also trying to educate the public about how votes, including those cast by mail, are counted to head off the disinformation and lies seen in 2020.

BALLOT SECURITY: Lehigh County will make ballot drop boxes available at five locations as former Trump officials pursue a lawsuit to force the county to limit the hours when they can be used, WLVR reports. County District Attorney Jim Martin had called for in-person monitoring of the boxes to prevent people from dropping off multiple ballots, which is illegal but doesn't necessarily indicate fraud

WATER PRESSURE: Aqua America sent postcards to Delaware County residents urging them to push local officials to sign off on the private company's acquisition of the regional wastewater system, The Inquirer (paywall) reports. The mailers come shortly after nearby Bucks County rejected a push by Aqua to acquire its sewer system. 

BOMB INJURIES: Five law enforcement officials including Pennsylvania State Police and FBI were injured Thursday when an explosive device "prematurely exploded" during a training at the SCI Phoenix state prison. WPVI reports that the cause of the explosion is under investigation

BOOZE BAN: Months after he was charged with DUI, state Rep. Matt Dowling (R., Fayette) has introduced a bill that would allow people to voluntarily exclude themselves from buying alcohol from state-licensed liquor establishments, PennLive (paywall) reports. Dowling has spoken publicly about his alcoholism and is not seeking reelection this November

HALF STAFF: Former state Rep. Jeff Pyle (R., Armstrong), who was diagnosed with cancer in 2005 and stepped down last year to deal with related health issues, died on Wednesday at the age of 58, the Butler Eagle reports. Gov. Tom Wolf has ordered commonwealth flags be flown at half staff.

ELECTION DATE: Pennsylvanians who want to vote in the Nov. 8 election have until Oct. 24 to register if they haven't already. You can do so here or with physical forms now available at a host of new locations.

RAIL DEAL: A tentative deal to avoid a national rail strike has been reached, and Pennsylvania farmers and manufacturers are especially relieved, per WESA. Amtrak said it's working to restore canceled service, too.

CALDER CORNER: An art space dedicated to Philly-born sculptor Alexander Calder is moving forward decades after it was first proposed. The Inquirer's Inga Saffron writes (paywall) that it's well worth the wait.

'STAY THIRSTY': Speaking of Philadelphia... The city weed-whacked a Kensington brewery's garden full of hops because they were mistaken for weeds, per KYW. The brewery says it's out tens of thousands of dollars.

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. Answers submitted by 6 p.m. on issue date will be counted.

*Bonus: Guess this week's theme today for an extra chance at winning a shipment of Spotlight PA swag. Reminder: this week's answers so far were: Enchanted, Reputation, Cardigan, and...

Yesterday's answer: Folklore

Congrats to our daily winners: Craig W., Elaine C., Starr B., Becky C., Michelle T., Don H., Karen W., Susan N.-Z., Irene R., Patricia M., Judith D., Greg V., George S., Judy M., Kim C., Marty M., Mike B., Rebecca H., Nancy S., Doris T., Mark O., Bill S., Daniel M., Tish M., Dianne K., Kimberly D., fitch387, James B., John H., Stanley J., and Steve H.
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