Part of the public record
As the Jerry Sandusky case developed and its fallout rocked Penn State University, the university's Board of Trustees asked the university community and the public for their trust regarding everything from the firing of football coach Joe Paterno to the future stewardship of the institution.
Over the last two years Penn State alumni have expressed their dissatisfaction with the board by dismissing all four board members who have stood for re-election. Two others chose not to run.
Now, as remaining trustees from the original board express dismay over the reluctance by many alumni and other interested parties to "move on," the university has attempted to stop the release of information that likely would provide insight into the board's decision-making.
Penn State is one of four state-affiliated universities, along with the University of Pittsburgh and Temple and Lincoln universities, all of which are exempt from the state's Open Records Law.
State government officials who are members of those institutions' boards, by virtue of their public positions, are not exempt from the law.
A Penn State alumnus, Ryan Bagwell, has attempted to obtain communications between the PSU board and one of its members - Ronald Tomalis, the former state secretary of education at the time of the crisis - in an effort to gain insight into the board's decision-making.
Records sought by Mr. Bagwell deal with the board's establishment of its special investigative task force, the roles of the NCAA and the Big Ten Conference in the inquiry, the hiring of Louis J. Freeh and leaks to the media prior to the release of Mr. Freeh's controversial report.
The state Open Records Office originally ruled that Mr. Bagwell was not entitled to the records because PSU is exempt from the Open Records Law. But Mr. Bagwell didn't seek the records from PSU; he sought them from the Department of Education. In July, the full Commonwealth Court ruled, 6-1, that the relevant records are public records because they are in possession of the DOE and deal with the work of the education secretary in his official capacity.
The court sent the matter back to the Office of Open Records for a review of 155 records still being withheld by the DOE despite the court's finding. Now, the OOR has approved Penn State's participation in that review.
The education secretary represents the public, no one else. His communications with Mr. Freeh and then-Trustees Ken Frazier, John Sturma and Steve Garban and others, inherently are public business. They should be released.