Monday, February 11, 2008

PHEAA acted with ‘wanton disregard’ of the law, judge rules

The Associated Press is reporting today that the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency has been ordered to pay pay legal fees incurred by three media outlets that fought in court for release of PHEAA spending records.

This is the latest black eye for the scandal-plagued student-loan agency supervised by a Board of Directors made up mostly of of Pennsylvania legislators.

Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Doris Smith-Ribner said PHEEA acted willfully and disregarded the Right-to-Know Law in a two-year battle over spending records, including those exposing the agency's lavish retreats for top executives and board members, according to the wire service.

The judge ordered PHEAA to pay $48,000 in legal fees incurred by The Associated Press, The Harrisburg Patriot-News and WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh.

The decision issued Friday said there was no legitimate reason for PHEAA to delay access to the records for 20 months, according to the AP.

While there have been some steps taken by PHEAA toward reforming its spending habits and the executive director has retired, no one can explain why the Board of Directors who were asleep at the wheel during the scandals is still made up of mostly the same Pennsylvania lawmakers.

The following of lawmakers who served on the PHEAA board at the time of the spending scandals: Rep. William F. Adolph Jr.; Sen. Sean Logan; Rep. Ronald Buxton; Sen. Jake Corman; J. Doyle Corman; Rep. Craig Dally; Sen. Jane M. Earll; Sen. Vincent J. Fumo; Sen. Vincent J. Hughes; Rep. Sandra J. Major; Rep. Jennifer L. Mann; Rep. Joseph F. Markosek; Sen. Michael A. O'Pake*; Roy Reinard; Sen. James J. Rhoades**; Rep. James R. Roebuck Jr.; A. William Schenck III; Rep. Jess M. Stairs; Sen. Robert M. Tomlinson.

*O'Pake, who served on the PHEAA board for 20 years, was recently replaced by Sen. Andrew Dinniman. Rhoades, another longtime board member, was replaced by Sen. Edwin B. Erickson.

The AP and The Patriot-News sought records of PHEAA board retreats, while WTAE-TV wanted to records on how much the agency's 2,700 workers spent on airfare, hotel rooms, meals and other expenses between 2003 and 2005, the news service reports.

The records showed the lawmaker-dominated board spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at posh resorts between 2000 and 2005, including on luxuries such as booze, golf fees and spa treatments, according to the AP.

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