Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Pennsylvania Needs More Sunshine. DSL a Case Study.

On Sunday the Carlisle Sentinel published an editorial in favor of liberalizing Pennsylvania's sunshine laws.
Pennsylvania's laws governing open meetings and open records leave a lot to be desired. For one thing, if you ask for information and an official body refuses to cooperate, the burden is on the citizen to prove he or she has a right to the information.

That's completely the opposite of the law in most other states. Resolving such a dispute usually requires a trip to court in the company of attorneys experienced in this area of law. That's an expensive and unlikely proposition for an individual citizen - and that situation encourages some officials to brush off all such requests.
I am in full agreement with this and I also think that this example offered by the Sentinel perfectly illustrates the need.
As Sentinel readers are aware, the fate of a local Dickinson School of Law campus hung in the balance as the Penn State University Board of Trustees, meeting as quietly as it could, attempted to move the entire school to University Park in violation of a purchase agreement requiring the university to keep the law school in Carlisle “in perpetuity.”

It was a combination of judicious leaks from inside the institution and a series of court actions that headed off what might have been an institutional sneak-away of a kind not seen since the Baltimore Colts tiptoed off to Indianapolis two decades ago.
What I found most interesting about this passage is that the editorial board pulled its punch. Rather than singling out Spanier as the thief that tried to steal DSL, it shifts the blame to a faceless Board of Trustees. If you followed the Sentinel's coverage of the fight to keep DSL in Carlisle you know that it didn't hesitate at the time to single out Spanier. See this op-ed for example.

What has changed is that Penn State has agreed to keep an "equal" campus of DSL in Carlisle in exchange for one in University Park. While plans move ahead on the construction of the University Park campus using borrowed money, fund raising for the Carlisle renovations have stalled. Hence Carlisle is at this point still somewhat uncertain that Spanier will keep his word. Spanier has a notoriously thin skin and has, in the past, signaled one thing about DSL and turned around and done something else. I think the Sentinel pulled its punch because they feared retribution from Spanier if he was named as the thief.

By the way, I highly recommend the Sentinel's coverage of the DSL death match to anyone who wants insight into the ways of Spanier, Erikson, and Courtney. You can search their archives here. The story broke in 2003 and was resolved in 2005.

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