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Penn State to Make Conflict of Interest Documents Available

by on March 11, 2014 3:07 PM

After months of requests, Penn State University says it will release conflict of interest disclosures submitted by the Board of Trustees in August.

For months, Ryan Bagwell, a candidate for the Penn State Board of Trustees, has challenged the board's implementation of a new conflict of interest policy -- a fight that has slowly gained results. The university is expected to make the documents available for review later this month.

"It's a step in the right direction," Bagwell says. "I wish the the administration would have released them on its own accord instead of after being coerced by the alumni. Since they claim the information is already public, you'd think it would't have a problem releasing the forms. This is why only 16 percent of alumni trust the Board of Trustees."

Last year, the Penn State Board of Trustees changed its bylaws, and now members are required to disclose any conflict of interests to the board chairman and Office of Trustees. However, the forms have not been made available to the public.

Over the last several months, Bagwell, a former reporter, has been asking to review the documents. In December, the university released a summary of the forms – but not each individual disclosure.

StateCollege.com requested access Tuesday to the disclosure forms and was instead directed to the summary report. Penn State Spokeswoman Lisa Powers says individual disclosure forms will be made available to the public starting March 17. The public can view or copy the documents by contacting the board's office. At the same time, she noted the release of the summary report meets requirements outlined in the board's bylaws.

"The summary report allows the public to have access to all of the information," Powers says.

Bagwell says the summary was not adequate.

"They are saying, 'you're going to have to trust us that we are giving you a complete representation of what the trustees disclosed' and for the administration to expect that anybody in this world trusts them to do anything is laughable," Bagwell says. "I don't understand how after they've acted over the last few years, that they could actually expect anybody to trust that they are providing information in it in its entirety."

Bagwell says part of the problem with the university releasing a summary report instead of trustees individually signed disclosures is the condensed version also includes the university's interpretation of conflict – which goes beyond what trustees acknowledged on paper.

For example, while Trustee Anthony Lubrano's form indicates he has no known conflicts, the university's summary argues Lubrano does have a conflict by being a party in a lawsuit against the NCAA.

Trustees Lubrano, Al Clemens, who resigned last week, Adam Taliaferro and Ryan McCombie are all plaintiffs in the lawsuit that asks the court to overturn unprecedented sanctions the NCAA ordered following the indictment of former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky for the sexual abuse of boys.

The university says the trustees have a conflict of interest by participating in the lawsuit.

"The university believes that the trustees' status as plaintiffs in this litigation constitutes a conflict of interest," administrators say in the summary.

After the university released the summary, Bagwell contacted trustees individually requesting copies of their conflict of interest forms. Bagwell says only one trustee, Lubrano, released a copy to him. Lubrano did not have any conflicts to disclose, according to the document.

"The reason you disclose conflict of interests is so that the public can keep an eye on you and can watch out for violations of those conflicts of interest," Bagwell says. "Conflict of interests are not inherently bad, but they have to be dealt with appropriately. The reason you disclose them is so you can't be accused of using them to your advantage."

Meanwhile, Trustee Joel Myers opted to publicly release his conflict of interest forms Monday. The documents released by Myers do not exactly match the details in the university's summary. Myers' paperwork includes $289,000 in additional donations to Penn State. The funds included a $284,000 installment for a $2 million Joel Myers Meteorology Center.

Myers owns AccuWeather, a company that provided meteorology services to Penn State in the 2012-2013 fiscal year for a total of $21,446. The company also made $34,400 in donations to Penn State. Additionally, Myers' son, Dan Myers, owns StateCollege.com and Penn State advertises with the site. His son's company, Lazerpro Digital Media Group, also provides Internet services to Penn State.

Myers, who is seeking re-election, said he released the documents "in an effort to be transparent during this campaign for the board of trustees."

Myers noted the documents do not include a contract between Penn State and AccuWeather for the protection of campus facilities, students, and other personnel from weather hazards using the unique SkyGuard Service. The contract runs from Aug. 1, 2013 to July 31, 2014 for $60,192.

"This will appear on the next annual report because of the timing of these reports," Myers says.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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