Tuesday, July 10, 2012
Updated: July 11, 12:21 PM ET
Sources: PSU trustees plan strategy
By Don Van Natta Jr.
At least 22 Penn State Board of Trustees members participated in a wide-ranging strategy session Tuesday night during a private conference call, discussing how to prepare for a potentially explosive report to be released Thursday morning by the Freeh Group, sources said. The report is expected to reveal whether former football coach Joe Paterno and Penn State officials failed to investigate and attempted to hide decade-old allegations that former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky was a child molester.
Sources said the 30-minute, unadvertised conference call, was led by Board of Trustees chairwoman Karen Peetz and focused on how the board plans to react to the internal report's public release Thursday by Louis J. Freeh, who was hired by the board to investigate the Sandusky matter. Trustees have a regularly scheduled meeting in Scranton, Penn., at the same time the Freeh report will be released.
That afternoon, the 32-member board plans on meeting behind closed doors in several working groups to formulate its response, sources said. A press conference will be held sometime later that afternoon by Penn State president Rodney Erickson, trustee Ron Tomalis and trustee Ken Frazier to deliver the trustees' reactions to the Freeh Group's findings, sources said.
Tuesday night's conference call session was also used as an opportunity to discuss options about how the trustees might protect the confidentiality of sensitive documents that the university turned over to the Freeh Group, one source said. Copies of thousands of memos, emails and other documents were given by Penn State to the Freeh Group's investigators. The report is expected to quote from those documents, and civil litigants and criminal defendants will likely seek their disclosure from the university.
The conference call meeting was not advertised to the public by the board. "Outside the Lines" was told about the meeting immediately after it happened by a person with first-hand knowledge of the call.
Pennsylvania's Sunshine Act requires public boards and panels to publish meeting notices at least 24 hours in advance, except for "emergency meetings" or "conferences."
The Act defines an emergency meeting as one "dealing with a real or potential emergency involving a clear and present danger to life or property." A conference meeting is defined as "any training program or seminar, or any session arranged by State or Federal agencies for local agencies, organized and conducted for the sole purpose of providing information to agency members on matters directly related to their official responsibilities."
Private "executive sessions" are allowed by law but only within an open meeting. "The reason for holding the executive session must be announced at the open meeting occurring immediately prior or subsequent to the executive session."
In December, a Penn State Board of Trustees committee felt compelled to publicly reaffirm the firing of Paterno, the resignation of president Graham Spanier and the appointment of Rodney Erickson as his successor. The December vote came after committee members first voted in a closed session on Nov. 6 -- an action criticized as a violation of the Sunshine Act.
A spokesman for Penn State, David La Torre, said that Tuesday's conference call "was for informational purposes only." A source with first-hand knowledge of the call defended the appropriateness of the discussion, saying it was mostly about logistics of how the trustees should handle the release of the Freeh Group report.
"It was a logical conversation about how the board is going to handle the discussion when the report is issued on Thursday so the board can prepare the appropriate response," the source said. Asked whether the meeting should have been advertised to the public, the source said, "You will have to ask the legal people that."
The appearance of the independence of the Freeh Group report has been a difficult issue for the board since the former judge and ex-FBI chief was hired on Nov. 21 by the trustees. Initially, the Freeh Group had intended to allow Penn State's trustees to review a draft copy of its report before releasing it to the public. After the Faculty Council and the Paterno family criticized that plan last winter, the Freeh Group decided to release its final report, without review or prior input by the trustees, directly to the board and the public at the same time.
However, several sources said a special committee of the board of trustees, chaired by trustee Ken Frazier, has received periodic updates by the Freeh Group during its eight-month investigation that has interviewed more than 400 witnesses. One source with knowledge of the updates said that one trustee who has received these updates told several fellow trustees that the Freeh Group's report will be "a very broadly based report that will be very harsh in a lot of areas -- Paterno, the governance issue for the board of trustees and the administration, and the athletics program ... everyone is going to get hammered."
A spokesman for the Freeh Group declined to comment beyond a press release that announced the report will be published online at 9 a.m. Thursday, followed at 10 a.m. by a news conference by Freeh investigators in Philadelphia.
Don Van Natta Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @DVNJr.