Thursday, June 24, 2004

Proposal would open Dickinson board meetings

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Thursday, June 24, 2004


Proposal would open Dickinson board meetings

Of The Patriot-News

The Dickinson School of Law's board of governors would have to meet in public under a bill that passed the state Senate yesterday. The Senate voted 50-0 to approve the measure sponsored by Sen. Harold Mowery, R-Cumberland. It would open to the public meetings of nonprofit boards that are affiliated with public institutions of higher learning.

The change to the state's Sunshine Act now moves to the House for consideration.

Rep. Will Gabig, R-Carlisle, is backing the bill and said he hopes to get it through the House before the summer recess, expected to begin after next week.

Mowery's proposal was worded specifically to include the Penn State law school's board, which in recent months has deliberated in private on potential move from Carlisle to the university's main campus in State College.

Law school board Chairman LeRoy Zimmerman could not be reached yesterday for comment on the Senate's action.

At a closed meeting earlier this month, the law school's board decided to investigate the idea of operating dual campuses -- one in Carlisle and one in State College.

The board is expected to vote on that proposal by mid-August.

The board's decision to consider operating the law school at two sites "has not lessened the community's anxiety," Mowery said yesterday on Senate floor.

"The community is further troubled because too much crucial decision-making is taking place behind closed doors," he said.

The Patriot-News and The Sentinel of Carlisle challenged the board's closed-meeting policy in court. However, the Commonwealth Court ruled in April that the board operates separately from Penn State, which is subject to the Sunshine Act, and is under no obligation to open its meetings. That decision is on appeal to the state Supreme Court.

Mowery said he introduced his bill in case the high court upholds the Commonwealth Court decision.

"Sunshine is no guarantee against bad decisions being made," Mowery said. "But I think it's very important so the community has the opportunity to visibly not only see, but also hear what went into the decision-making process."

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