Trustees won’t disclose their disclosures
It’s a rare to see Penn State’s trustees take any action to improve transparency. So we cheered in August when they adopted a stronger conflict of interest policy, which included the filing of annual disclosures that are supposed to be made public.
But last week, they let us down again. Instead of simply releasing the disclosure forms that trustees filed, somebody at Penn State decided to cull the information into a tidy, sanitized summary that included information that probably wasn’t even filed in the first place.
At first glance, the summary appears to present an honest look at the conflicts that some trustees know about.
- Penn State is paying Ira Lubert’s companies more than $1.1 million a year for office space in two buildings in Innovation Park.
- Paul Silvis’s wife got $18,776 from the university last year to host 33 events at her restaurant, the Mt. Nittany Inn. No other information was disclosed, but the agenda from the last board meeting lists the amount of each check and the university department that paid for it. The lowest charge was $16.83, and the highest was $2,981.
- Penn State paid Joel Myers’s weather forecasting company Accuweather $21,466 last year and a bunch of other money to a few companies owned by his son.
But it said nothing about what 21 of the 32 trustees disclosed, if anything. Did they list any conflicts? We’ll never know, because Penn State has refused to provide what the board’s own bylaws say it should release.
The bylaws are clear: “[E]ach Trustee must disclose annually and in writing to the Secretary of the Board all conflicts of interest that are known to such Trustee. The annual disclosures of known conflicts of interest will be publicly available upon request.”
Nothing permits the university to provide a summary in lieu of the actual disclosures that were filed. But board secretary Jeanie Andrews defended the decision:
We believe that the document that was posted yesterday complies with both the letter and the spirit of the University’s Bylaws. In fact, we went above and beyond what is required by posting the document to the University’s website, rather than requiring interested parties to make individual requests. In addition, we notified you and others who expressed interest in trustee disclosures that the document had been posted.
So let me get this straight – Penn State went above and beyond what is required by posting the summary online and providing me with the information after I asked for it?
Via e-mail, I asked most of the board’s trustees to provide me with a copy of their disclosure forms. Only one got back to me – Peter Khoury. The only copy of his form was given to Jeanie Andrews, he said. I asked him to tell Jeanie it’s OK for her to provide me with a copy, but Peter didn’t respond.
I challenge to all 32 trustees to e-mail me a copy of the disclosure form you submitted, or ask the board’s secretary to release a copy to the public. Be a leader. Set a good example. And prove to the world that you truly believe in the basic tenets of transparency.