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Spotlight PA takes Penn State to court

Plus: U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson has prostate cancer

This is Talk of the Town, a free weekly newsletter delivering top news from State College and the surrounding region.

December 7, 2023
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Centre Documenters recruits, trains, and pays local citizen Documenters to attend and document government meetings in six undercovered townships across Centre County — Benner, College, Gregg, Halfmoon, Snow Shoe, and Spring.

This initiative keeps taxpayers like you informed about your elected leaders and their decisions.

Centre Documenters is a partnership between News Lab at Penn State and Spotlight PA.
Inside this edition: Spotlight PA sues Penn State over its private meetings, tracking Gov. Shapiro’s campaign promises, and U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson diagnosed with prostate cancer.
Georgianna Sutherland / For Spotlight PA

Real quick: Spotlight PA is asking a Centre County judge to determine whether the Penn State Board of Trustees violated Pennsylvania’s Sunshine Act.

A little more: Spotlight PA on Wednesday sued the Penn State Board of Trustees over what the newsroom contends are violations of Pennsylvania’s open meetings law.

The lawsuit asks a Centre County judge to determine whether the board and its committees misused exceptions to the state’s Sunshine Act to potentially conduct public business behind closed doors on Nov. 9 and 10.

Paula Knudsen Burke, a lawyer for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, filed the lawsuit on behalf of Spotlight PA in the Centre County Court of Common Pleas. Burke previously sent the university a letter requesting that it comply with the law as required.

“By regularly meeting in secret, Penn State officials are not just violating the state’s Sunshine Act, they are also violating the public's trust. In order to hold an institution as large and influential as Penn State accountable, we must demand greater transparency,” Burke said of the lawsuit.

The university could not be reached immediately by phone or email for comment.

The filing alleges that the board did not publicly state why its Audit and Risk Committee held two executive sessions Nov. 9 — one before its public meeting, which lasted less than 10 minutes, and one after. The law requires that an organization state during a public meeting why it met in executive session based on any of several legal justifications.

The next morning, the full Board of Trustees was scheduled to meet for more than four hours in “conference and/or privileged executive session,” according to the board’s calendar. A “conference” and an “executive session” have separate legal definitions and applications for governing bodies. 

On the morning of Nov. 10, a Penn State board employee told a Spotlight PA reporter the board was meeting in “conference.” That afternoon, during the full board’s public meeting, board chair Matthew Schuyler said the board had met that morning in “executive session.”

Schuyler said the board met to discuss “various privileged matters,” and offered no specific explanation for the executive session.

“We do not take legal action lightly, but we have unfortunately exhausted all other avenues on behalf of the people of Pennsylvania — and especially those who care about the well-being of Penn State — to ensure the university’s Board of Trustees complies with the state open meetings law,” said Christopher Baxter, Spotlight PA president and CEO. “Spotlight PA will never relent in its mission to demand accountability and transparency from powerful institutions, especially when they benefit from taxpayer dollars.”

The full story: Read more here.

We’re celebrating our new sustaining members this week by giving away 2 nights and dinner at the Historic Hotel Bethlehem in the Lehigh Valley — a $600 value! Just make a gift of $15/month or more now to be entered »

Monthly support is vital to sustaining Spotlight PA. Predictable revenue allows us to budget our resources and ensure we're stretching every dollar as far as possible to deliver best-in-class investigative and public-service journalism. 

And until 11:59 p.m. Saturday, your monthly support comes with a chance to win this special Pennsylvania getaway!

If you’d prefer to make a one-time give, you can do so through our website here. You can also give via PayPal or Venmo, or send a check to: Spotlight PA, PO Box 11728, Harrisburg, PA 17108.

All one-time gifts will continue to be DOUBLED through the end of the year!
» Opioid settlement: Allegheny County won’t receive a $479,000 penalty after questions from WESA and Spotlight PA

» New Pa. House rules sought to strengthen bipartisanship. Insiders say it didn’t work.

» We tracked Josh Shapiro’s 11 biggest campaign promises through his first year. See how he did.

» Court ruling on undated ballots brings confusion as Pa. counties certify November election results
Sunset as seen from the Penn State fields at the north end of the arboretum property via John D. 

Want to be featured here? Send your best local pics to talkofthetown@spotlightpa.org.
» SC: U.S. Rep. Glenn Thompson has prostate cancer
» WPSU: Pa. task force to increase accessibility to flood insurance

» CDT: Judge won’t dismiss student’s lawsuit against State College 
» NCPA: Grant funds boost prison-to-college program
» Mirror: Clearfield seeks to block child welfare records release
» WPSU: Pa. introduces new rules regarding Chronic Wasting Disease
Support Spotlight PA's independent, nonpartisan journalism and for a limited time, your gift will be DOUBLED.
Want us to list your event? Send it to us.

» Dec. 8: Essence 2 presents its “Great Joy II Around the World” concert at Penn State Recital Hall in Centre County.

» Dec. 8-9: The 13th annual Lemont Christmas Market in Centre County features local crafts, treats and beverages, and an appearance by Santa.

» Dec. 8-10: Horse-drawn carriage rides, Victorian high teas, entertainment, and more highlight Bellefonte Victorian Christmas in Centre County.

» Dec. 8-10: Wellsboro hosts its eighth annual Christmas on Main Street in Tioga County.

» Dec. 9: Make a wreath from natural materials at Canoe Creek State Park in Blair County.

» Dec. 10: Join the Punxsutawney Holly Tour in Jefferson County to see local homes and other venues “in all of their holiday splendor.”
An anagram is a word, phrase, or name formed by rearranging the letters of another. For example, “spotlight” also forms “stoplight.”

Decode the anagram and send your answer to talkofthetown@spotlightpa.org. We’ll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA State College swag.

Good luck!

Last week’s answer: Idea

Congrats to Rick W., who will receive Spotlight PA State College swag. Others who answered correctly: Martha D., Don H., Rena Z., Kevin M., Frederick H., Amy Z., Linda A., Elizabeth B., John W., Leslie B., and Leann T.
Do you have events, community shoutouts, questions about our region, or tips on stories that we should pursue? Email our team.
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Spotlight PA
PO Box 11728
Harrisburg, PA 17108-1728


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