Senate passes six amendments in one meeting

Current, former SA members have split opinion on changes

On February 25, 2014

In less than one hour, the Student Association Senate unanimously passed six out of seven amendments, tabling the other.

The approved amendments: removed the distinction of on-campus and off-campus senators; changed staff appointment procedures; extended the president's term until the end of the school year; altered election dates and vacancy election policies; officiated university policy in Student-Wide Judiciary (SWJ) rulings; and revised the process of money transfers.

The fourth amendment, which specifies the Senate's powers, was tabled because senators felt it needed more exploration.

The Senate, which oversees the financial aspects of SA, helps manage the organization's approximately $4 million budget.

The Senate passed the six amendments unopposed and not much debate occurred within the meeting itself. But Senator Ali Ahmed, who left the meeting just before the votes, and former SA President Travis Nemmer question some of the decisions - namely removing the division of on- and off-campus senators. Ahmed and Nemmer are also concerned with the proposed changes of the fourth amendment.

"To give them 10 minutes to decide on the constitution of the Student Association, which not only affects the current year but all the coming years to come is ridiculous," Ahmed said. He voiced his concerns regarding the amendments before leaving Sunday evening's meeting.

Nemmer thought the amount of time was indicative of the Senate's ability to work effectively.

"If the Senate is doing their job, they either give it the appropriate attention and vote it up, or if they didn't like it, they'd ask more questions and vote it down," Nemmer said. "Time doesn't factor too much into this."

SA President Sam McMahon said the amendments are "mainly the result" of last year's SA audit. He said SA's lawyer advised the association to address "areas of ambiguity" in its constitution to "strengthen the organization moving forward."

Currently, the Senate is comprised of six students who reside off campus and six who reside on campus. Students who live on campus can only vote for on-campus senators and vice versa. Next year, there will be no such distinction.

McMahon believes the change will raise voter turnout and, in the process, help all students understand the important role senators play in SA. Originally, the separation was created in case the Senate became imbalanced.

"There was a concern that RAs would become too involved ... but we have a pretty good relationship with other on-campus organizations, so it's not like we're at odds with everyone," McMahon said.

Nemmer, who served as president during the 2012-13 academic year, believes the change may cause a decrease in off-campus voters. In previous years, the most-voted candidates have all been the on-campus elects and voter turnout has not reflected UB's commuter majority, according to Nemmer.

"That's not policy - that's just math," he said.

McMahon said, in general, the Senate's decisions are mostly financial and students' residency is a nonfactor.

The tabled amendment would give the Senate several new abilities.

The first part of the three-part amendment would give senators the ability to "impose sanctions" to any SA club that veers from its requirements. This could include fining a club, removing a club officer or suspending a club.

"It gives [the Senate] more of a backbone if we have a real issue in the organization - to deal with clubs rather than just fully derecognizing them," McMahon said. "There's an intermediate."

Another part of the tabled amendment would allow the Senate to "approve and amend employment policies, internal controls and financial policies for SA and its clubs" as well as "other policies for SA clubs."

"Right now, this power isn't given explicitly to anyone in the constitution ... the power defaults to the [Emergency Powers Council]," McMahon said. "That's a very small group of people potentially dealing with a large issue."

The Emergency Powers Council (EPC) is an extension of the Senate. The council meets if an issue cannot wait the five days it takes to call a Senate meeting, or if the Senate is not in session. It is comprised of the president, treasurer, vice president and the Senate and Assembly chairs.

"A lot of EPC meetings take place over the summer," Ahmed said. "If we remove the EPC's power and shift them to the Senate, it just delays the process so much more. The members in the EPC should, by all means, be responsible individuals."

Nemmer said the Senate does not always see the same picture the executive board does. The amendment says the Senate would be able to vote on employment and internal controls.

"I would be more than OK with leaving [employment policies, internal controls and financial policies] to the Emergency Powers Council, or a two-thirds vote of the executive board, if they wanted more people changing this than a unilateral dictation from the president," Nemmer said. "However, the Senate is not blessed with the same level of efficacy. It seems rather improper to be allowing the Senate to weigh in on the human resources of the Student Association when it's never been their job."

This number of amendments has probably not been passed in one meeting "in a long time," according to McMahon. But he said the amendments went through a lot of hands before reaching the Senate and it was the Senate's right to approve or disapprove them at any speed.

"This was pretty much just housekeeping, patching holes over grey areas and making it clearly defined what everyone's roles in this organization is and how this organization should run," McMahon said.      

In other SA news, the organization has hired a new human resources professional staff member, Maren Boot.



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