UB Student Association senate trying to get on track, still behind, in light of controversy

Special forum with SA attorney held after chair election missteps

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Nearly two months into the semester, clubs have still not had an opportunity to ask the Student Association senate for more funds, as the body and SA as a whole try to recover from last week’s controversial chair election.

The senate held a special forum – attended by just seven of the body’s 18 voting members – in place of its normal meeting Wednesday night to discuss the election and to educate senators on their positions. SA Attorney Josh Korman answered questions about SA’s constitution and bylaws and executive board members and professional staff further explained senators’ roles to them.

The body has been in flux ever since SA President Minahil Khan mishandled the senate chair election, as she cast a ballot to break a 7-7 tie between two candidates, despite the fact the SA bylaws say to have a re-vote in that situation. SA will hold a new election for senate chair on Monday at 5:30 p.m. and clubs will be able to ask for more money. 

Dillon Smith, the candidate who won the invalid election, resigned as chair before Wednesday’s meeting and addressed the senate.

“I’m ashamed of the body as a whole,” Dillon, getting emotional at times, said. “We failed as the senate for letting political interests affect our abilities … there was clubs that wanted to come for money Sunday and today for activities, which is our main obligation as senate and we are failing at that right now … I just ask everyone right now, try and move forward in a quick and speedy manner.”

Korman said Smith was technically never elected in the first place. He said Khan’s tie-breaking vote never counted because Khan, as president, is a non-voting member of the senate. In the instance of a tie, another vote should have been held until there was majority winner, as SA bylaws state.

“It was my opinion no one was actually elected and the meeting ended in the middle of the process,” Korman said.

SA has yet to receive an official resignation from Yaser Soliman, the losing candidate in the senate chair election. Soliman denounced SA’s integrity and announced his resignation in a letter to The Spectrum Sunday, but he must submit a written resignation to SA.

Soliman had threatened legal action against the organization, but Korman said SA has not had any lawsuit filed against them or had any communication from another attorney relating to the election.

Korman said SA has never lost or had to settle a lawsuit. He said despite the fact he saw a lot of “sad faces” at the senate meeting Wednesday, SA is in a good place as an organization.

Korman went over the constitution and bylaws and the errors in last week’s election. He said he works with number of businesses and organizations and the formalities of meetings are something many of them struggle with.

“I don’t think SA is alone today in that,” Korman said.

Korman advised the e-board to conduct the next election on a clean slate and, despite the fact the constitution doesn’t mandate it, openly count the ballots in front of everyone, which was not done in last week’s election.

The e-board and Mark RP Sorel, SA admin director, focused the remainder of the meeting on training the seven senators in attendance to properly supervise SA clubs and budgets. Several senators had told The Spectrum they didn’t feel properly prepared and that their only training was a 30-minute meeting in which they were told to read the constitution themselves.

“In the past we had to go into it [as senators] and use rational reasoning skills,” said SA Treasurer Joe Pace. “So for the people who have been elected will make good decisions and although there is a learning curve, with a legislative body and everyone is in check with each other.”

In normal senate meetings, clubs present their cases to receive additional money from the budget. The senators then vote on how much money – if anything – to give the club. The senate has about $13,000 out of a discretionary line to give to clubs throughout the year.

Sorel and the e-board described the process of making those decisions, which includes asking what the club is using the money toward, if they actually need it and if the club does well on its requirements.

“‘What are they buying? How much of it? Why?’” Pace said. “This is not a knee jerk, ‘This sounds like a fun party, let’s give them money.’”

“Do they actually need senate money?”

SA officials recounted a story of a few years ago when the men’s rugby team asked for increased funds to go to Las Vegas. While the senators initially thought, “yeah right,” there was an actual rugby sevens tournament in Las Vegas and it was a legitimate expense, according to Sorel.

“When something sounds outrageous – and it may be – but it also may be real,” Sorel said.

Officials told senators they must understand the concept of viewpoint neutrality – as student governments must make decisions for student organizations in a neutral manner.

Pace urges the senators to take this process seriously since there is no exact formula and it is all based on judgment calls.

The e-board admitted it would have liked a larger turnout. At the first meeting, the senators all agreed Sunday evenings would work best for everyone’s schedule to meet. According to emails from Smith to the senate, the meeting was held during the week to work with Korman’s schedule.

“So as long as they initiate discussion and ask questions, those who weren’t there will quickly catch on to what they’re suppose to do,” Pace said.

Khan admitted this election scandal has pushed the senate behind a couple of weeks.

“All we can hope for the senate is that they give clubs a fair shot and follow the guidelines that are set,” Khan said.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story said it was unclear if clubs would be presenting and asking for money at the next senate meeting. That was incorrect. Clubs will be given the chance to ask the senate for money after the chair election. 

Gabriela Julia is the senior news editor and can be reached at gabriela.julia@ubspectrum.com. Follow her on Twitter at @gabrielaajulia.