Saturday, July 17, 2004

Law signed to open board meeting

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Saturday, July 17, 2004

Law signed to open board meeting

For The Patriot-News

When The Dickinson School of Law board of governors meets to discuss splitting the school into two campuses, the public will be allowed to attend, under a law signed late Thursday night by Gov. Ed Rendell. The Patriot-News and The Sentinel of Carlisle had attempted to force open the board's meetings through a legal challenge. The newspapers won their fight in Cumberland County Court, but the Commonwealth Court overturned the decision in April.

The law does not grant the public the right to participate in the meetings.

The law, sponsored by Sen. Hal Mowery, R-Cumberland, requires the school's board of governors to open meetings previously held in private. But it doesn't require public comment and the board won't take any, said board Chairman LeRoy Zimmerman.

The law school agreed to merge with Pennsylvania State University in 1997. Law school Dean Philip McConnaughay and Penn State administrators last fall proposed relocating the Carlisle-based law school to the main campus in State College, prompting outrage from many area business and political leaders.

The board shelved that proposal in June, but agreed to consider an alternate plan to operate campuses in both locations. The plan would upgrade the existing Carlisle campus for about $25 million, while a larger, second campus would be built in State College for $60 million.

The board expects to vote on the dual-campus proposal at its next meeting, Zimmerman said. The meeting is to take place before Aug. 15, he said, but the date and location haven't been determined.

Board member Jason Kutulakis, a Carlisle attorney, said public attendance at the meeting doesn't bother him, but might give pause to higher-profile members such as judges and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge.

"They will probably pick their words very carefully," Kutulakis said.

The House and Senate unanimously passed the open meetings law last month. While aimed at the Dickinson board, the law opens to the public all meetings of non-profit boards affiliated with public colleges and universities.

The state Supreme Court agreed to hear the Patriot-News and Sentinel appeal of the Commonwealth Court's decision, but the court isn't expected to hear the case until at least September.

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