Alumnus files suit over Penn State records

Published October 11, 2012

Middleton, Wis. – A Penn State alumnus this morning filed a lawsuit to stop state officials from keeping public records about the Sandusky scandal secret.

Ryan Bagwell, a 2002 graduate, wants the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court to overturn a ruling by the state Office of Open Records that allowed Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis to withhold records of his actions as Penn State trustee.

Tomalis is one of a handful of state officials that sit on Penn State’s Board of Trustees by law. The so-called “ex officio” members are appointed to the board solely by virtue of their state positions.

But the OOR said Tomalis’ trustee activities weren’t activities of a state agency, even while taxpayers footed the bill while he sat on the board. Since Penn State isn’t subject to most of Right to Know Law, those documents don’t have to be disclosed, the OOR ruled.

“The OOR’s opinion is highly fallible and fundamentally flawed,” Bagwell said. “It’s inconsistent with not only Commonwealth court precedent, but also its own.”

“In a single act, the OOR significantly limited the ability of Pennsylvania taxpayers to learn more about the actions of their leaders. Its decision should concern all taxpayers, not just those with an interest in Penn State.”

Bagwell filed a request under the state Right to Know Law on June 29 seeking records received by Tomalis from Penn State officials. The Department of Education released some records, but said others would remain secret.

After filing an appeal with the Office of Open Records, lawyers for Tomalis said a similar request by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had already been denied by the OOR.

The OOR denied Bagwell’s appeal on Sept. 13, saying records of Tomalis’ trustees activities were not records of a state agency.

“Recent actions of Penn State’s leaders have been inconsistent with their public statements,” Bagwell said in a letter to the OOR that announced his suit. “The public has a right to know how those leaders conducted themselves when making decisions on behalf of Commonwealth citizens. Sadly, your office has decided to shield their actions from public scrutiny. Now, it is our responsibility to ensure this secrecy does not persist.”

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Ryan Bagwell