Forecast Not So Good: Board of Trustees Possibly in Violation of Sunshine Act
Once you get over the fact that there is a law titled The Sunshine Act, you’ll realize that this is a relatively serious piece of news. The Sunshine Act is a law which, in Pennsylvania, requires public bodies to announce meetings to the public 24 hours before they occur in order prevent secret meetings.
While there are exceptions in certain emergencies, the Penn State Board of Trustees may have been in direct violation of this act numerous times towards the beginning of the Sandusky scandal. This has been speculated about for a few days, and while it’s not earth-shattering news, it could certainly be relevant. During the week of November 5, the Board of Trustees held at least three of these types of meetings, including the November 9 conference during which the decision was made to fire Joe Paterno.
An exemption to The Sunshine Act does exist in which meetings can be called without forming the public in instances where “the purpose of dealing with a real or potential emergency involving a clear and present danger to life or property.”
While the issue at hand was very important, it may not fall under that exact description. What exactly does this all mean? Well, that depends.
According to Melissa Melewsky, media law counsel for the Pennsylvania Newspaper Association, criminal prosecutions for violating the Sunshine Act are not common. If a case was pursued, penalties could include $1,000 fines for each violation and invalidation of decisions made at the particular illegal meeting.
Now, before anyone gets too excited, Joe Paterno is not returning. It is likely that this will never even make it to a district attorney and nothing will emerge from it; however, it is another black cloud that may hang over the heads of the trustees going forward. The Board of Trustees has already been criticized for rushing to judgment along with a poor public relations display throughout the scandal. They did not need another issue to worry about or for people to hold against them; however, they may have yet another one on their hands.