Penn State must disclose salaries of Paterno, administrators

Updated: November 20, 2007, 9:01 PM ET
Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- The salaries of Penn State coach Joe Paterno and the school's top administrators must be disclosed by the state retirement system, the state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday.

The 4-2 decision said the Commonwealth Court, which had ordered the disclosure, properly balanced the public's interest in knowing details about retirement system finances against the effects disclosure might have on reputations and personal security.

There's been speculation for years that Paterno is among the highest-paid coaches, but the numbers have never been public.

Alabama's Nick Saban became the highest-paid coach in college football at $4 million per year when he was hired by the Crimson Tide after last season. Oklahoma's Bob Stoops makes over $3 million and several coaches, including Ohio State's Jim Tressel, Florida's Urban Meyer and South Carolina's Steve Spurrier make upward of $2 million annually.

The Paterno case was the result of a 2002 request by The Patriot-News in Harrisburg that sought the salaries of Paterno and three other Penn State officials from the State Employees' Retirement System.

The retirement board had granted the request, but disclosure was put on hold while the university appealed.

"We hold that the public does in fact have a right to such information to the extent necessary to justify all guaranteed disbursements from the fund," wrote Justice James J. Fitzgerald III for the majority.

Penn State issued a statement later Tuesday saying university officials would not pursue any further appeals.

It was not immediately clear when the information would be released. Retirement system spokesman Bob Gentzel had no immediate comment.

In addition to Paterno, the paper also sought information regarding vice president and provost Rodney Erickson, vice president and treasurer Gary Schultz and former budget officer Richard Althouse.

The ruling applies to their names, service histories and salaries but does not include their addresses, phone numbers or Social Security numbers.

Paterno, 80, has been head coach for 42 years, a record for major college football. He holds records for bowl appearances (33) and postseason wins (22) and his 371 total victories put him two behind Florida State's Bobby Bowden for most among major college coaches.

Penn State had said releasing salaries would be unfair to those hired with an understanding their pay would not be made public and that disclosure might harm morale or make it harder to recruit and retain talent.

"Individuals and private entities cannot reasonably expect the commonwealth to keep secrets from its citizens regarding the disbursement of public funds, past, present or future," Fitzgerald wrote.

The dissenting opinion by Chief Justice Ralph J. Cappy said the information Patriot-News reporter Jan Murphy sought did not qualify as a public record under the state's Right-to-Know Law.

"That information may become a public record at the time the retirement benefits are computed and paid by [the retirement system], but until that point, there has been no disbursement of public funds or even the anticipation of disbursement," Cappy said.

Penn State is classified as a "state-related" university and so is not subject to the Right-to-Know Law, but Paterno and the others are enrolled in the retirement system, which the law does cover. The school gets about 10 percent of its $3 billion-plus budget from the state.

The Legislature is currently considering bills that would extend the open records law to Penn State and the other three state-related universities: Temple, Lincoln and Pitt.

Justice Cynthia A. Baldwin, a Penn State trustee, did not participate in the case.

It was not immediately clear when the information might be released. Neither Penn State spokesman Bill Mahon nor retirement system spokesman Bob Gentzel offered immediate comment.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press