'Emergency Powers Council' Can 'Circumvent' SA Senate
In the summer, three students have the power to make decisions on behalf of the entire UB undergraduate population. They make up the Student Association's Emergency Powers Council.
The Emergency Powers Council (EPC) exists as an extension of the SA Senate, able to convene in its place. It consists of the SA president, vice president, treasurer, chairman of the SA Senate, and speaker of the SA Assembly. It takes three EPC members to call a meeting in the summer and four to call one during the school year.
SA Senator James Gibbons, a senior political science major, is concerned that the EPC may hold too much power.
"I've talked to many students, and they don't like how SA has the power to go into these EPC meetings and circumvent the legislative process," Gibbons said.
The EPC can enact legislation and approve budgetary line transfers and appointments.
The EPC was originally conceived to function during the summer, when many of the SA senators are not in Buffalo, according to Gibbons. But an EPC meeting can be called "whenever any member of the [EPC] deems such a meeting necessary," according to SA's constitution.
SA Treasurer Sikander Khan believes the EPC is a "practical solution to getting things done when people are not around [in the summer]," but he acknowledges that the use of the council has been "abused in the past."
The EPC had one meeting each year in 2006, 2008 and 2009. These all took place in the summer recess when there is no standing Senate. In 2007, the EPC didn't meet at all. However, in the 2010-11 school year, seven EPC meetings were held. Three of them took place in a time frame in which the Senate could have or did meet. These numbers were determined based on EPC meeting minutes obtained from SA by The Spectrum.
"I know last year…they approved all of the SA staff bonuses during the holiday season," Gibbons said. "They approved that during an EPC meeting when there was a Senate meeting a couple of days before. That really bothered me."
Khan is aware of the negative connotation the EPC holds because executive boards have given themselves bonuses in the past. The current e-board has agreed not to utilize the EPC in such a manner.
"We didn't want to look like we did something that was not approved by the majority of the students," Khan said.
Still, Gibbons wants to make a fundamental change to the EPC. He thinks "it's a shame" when an EPC meeting is called while school is in session.
"One of my goals is to perhaps change the constitution so that while school is in session, you need unanimous decision to call the meeting [rather than a quorum of three or four people]," Gibbons said.
SA senator and School of Management junior Katherine Pizzutelli views the EPC as an "absolute necessity" to SA. She served as acting Senate chair for two weeks, and she participated in one EPC meeting on Sept. 21, which lasted nine minutes.
Senators need a minimum of five days before a meeting is called, and, according to Pizzutelli, that can be too long of a time span to wait when a decision needs to be made.
"If the SA Executive Board were to delay this said decision…there would be negative consequences for SA," Pizzutelli said in an email. "This negative impact could include ‘a loss, diminution in value, or loss of opportunity, financial or otherwise, for the Student Association,' [as stated in the SA Constitution]."
Still, Gibbons believes the meetings can be easily misused. He feels the EPC has "a lot of power" and can "avoid passing potentially unpopular things in Senate or Assembly meetings."
But there is a clear contrast of opinions within the Senate.
"EPC is not a sneaky meeting held behind the back of the Senate or Assembly," Pizzutelli said. "I really trust [SA President] JoAnna [Datz], [Vice President] Meghan [McMonagle], Sikander, [Senate Chairman] Darwinson [Valdez], and [Assembly Speaker] Steven Jackson, and I am confident that they will continue to keep up with their checks and balances."
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