Losing Candidate Files Suit for PSU Ag Trustee Seat

7/19/2014 7:00 AM
By Charlene M. Shupp Espenshade Special Sections Editor

Last week, recent Penn State trustee candidate Jess Stairs filed notice in Centre County of his intention to sue the board of trustees and his opponents in the recent election, incumbents Keith Masser and Betsy Huber.

M asser, the current board chairman, and Huber defeated Stairs in May during the trustee election run by the state’s agricultural organizations. Stairs trailed Huber by a single vote in the final count.

Stairs appealed to the board of trustees, but it ruled that the election was valid, leading to last week’s announcement. The appeal centers on the votes cast by the Venango County delegation.

“The process for the elections at Penn State was not followed,” said Dean Piermattei, the attorney representing Jess Stairs. “What we are seeking is to have the process followed. Determine how votes were cast contrary to the protocol.”

The argument stems from Stairs’ belief that the Venango County delegation improperly cast three of its six votes for Huber, costing Stairs the election.

The county agricultural organizations caucus — either in their counties or at the trustee election — selecting three delegates to vote on behalf of the county. Each delegate gets two votes, for a total of six votes per county.

Piermattei says the point of the suit is to get Penn State to follow its own rules. If more than three delegates are in attendance, the county must caucus to decide who will cast the votes, he said.

Venengo County did not caucus, and the group supporting Huber took the ballots and cast the county votes. Masser and Huber won. Huber edged out Stairs 89-88.

The belief is if the county had caucused, the vote would have been different, and Stairs would have won.

Penn State is taking the position that the allegations by Stairs are “without merit.”

“The university is very disappointed that Mr. Stairs has chosen this course of action and that it will be required to devote university resources to defending this litigation,” Penn State spokesman David La Torre said in a written statement.

“Because this matter now is the subject of pending litigation, the university will have no further public comment,” he said.

Some people believe that Stairs, a former state representative from Westmoreland County, attempted to sway the election by having associates cast votes for him as representatives from at least one county they did not live in.

Huber and Masser are included in the lawsuit because the outcome could affect their election to the board.

Huber declined to comment for this report because of the pending lawsuit.

However, in May Huber told the Harrisburg Patriot-News, “Getting friends of the candidate to represent other counties ... voids the democratic process that’s supposed to occur by having each county participate in the election.”

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