‘A better face for the SA’
Improper behavior demands Johns’ impeachment
Published: Monday, September 9, 2013
Updated: Monday, September 9, 2013 01:09
As recent disclosures have shed light on the second major scandal from the Student Association’s executive board in two years, this is a time when students should be paying attention.
On Saturday afternoon, The Spectrum interviewed SA President Nick Johns regarding allegations that have prompted a petition for his impeachment.
“I believe I should be given a reprieve,” he said. “I’ve never been in such a large leadership role; every little thing you do is analyzed.”
Evidently, Johns wasn’t aware of what a big job it is to manage millions of dollars. Surprised by the scrutiny and the extent to which his behavior has been monitored, he was unable to gather ammunition to support his defense.
We’re only two weeks into the academic year and a long list of accusations has already accumulated – supported by the testimony of those who work closest to him. All indications point to an impending demise.
As Johns sat nervously in our office, listening to the overwhelming evidence that could end his presidency, a sense of self-destruction was palpable; his desire for power was so strong, he was blind to his own limitations.
During the election in March, Johns met with our editorial board to present his candidacy; he was seeking our endorsement. Covered in mud and garbed in a flag-football uniform, the future SA president came with the intent of conveying his immersion with “the college life.” Unlike his opponents, dressed in suit and tie, he came directly after a game with the fraternity he was pledging – wanting to demonstrate a connection with the average college experience.
His appearance, however, came off as unprofessional and demeaning to the voice of the student body. The deliberate display of exuberance was a visible sign the sophomore candidate had no shortage of audacity.
“I get my hands dirty,” he told us. Though who knew how he meant it?
Everything that has come to light is appalling and disgraceful.
Recent allegations regarding Johns’ improper behavior include: harassment, inappropriate acceptance of gifts, mishandling of SA funds, falsifying time sheets, hiring personal friends over more qualified candidates (including creating positions to accommodate friends) and mistreating SA staff.
Johns has been in our field of vision for only six months and he has already corrupted the integrity of the association that represents all UB undergraduate students.
The testimony and text message history that Jennifer Merckel, SA chief of staff, provided to The Spectrum is as much disconcerting as it is revealing of Johns’ character.
When we asked Johns about the nature of his relationship with Merckel, he responded with protestations of ambiguity. “It wasn’t completely a working relationship,” he said. “It occupied a grey area for me.”
But there only seems to have been ambiguity on Johns’ end.
Regardless of whether Merckel’s testimony against Johns is true, he had no right to remove the definition of harassment from the SA handbook.
Johns also urged Merckel to remove Ariel Dunster and Josh Fromm from Sub Board I due to “personal differences,” she said, because they didn’t support him during the election. The text messages support that Johns attempted to move forward with this plan – one that was deceitful and manipulative. A requisite of integrity was seemingly absent from the president’s decision-making process.
Johns’ repeated words and actions are highly indicative of his obsession with and abuse of power.
In other text messages to Merckel, Johns states, “I’m a dumbass, but luckily, I’m also president,” and, “People usually step aside. I’m not used to answering to anyone.”
What Johns failed to grasp is that he answers to the students.
It is a privilege to do so and his consistent pattern of misconduct is ample reason to believe he should no longer have the opportunity to be the face of the student body.
Merckel told The Spectrum Johns would repeatedly give hiring preference to attractive females. She said when she confronted him on this, he said it was “to make a better face for the SA.”
Not a very substantial rationale for deciding who will work to manage $3.6 million of accumulated mandatory student activity fees.
There have been other financial blunders, too.
Johns committed a clear violation of SA rules and protocol on Aug. 31 when he accepted an expense-paid trip and sideline ticket to UB’s football game versus Ohio State.
Selsky and Treasurer Siddhant Chhabria told The Spectrum they had a conversation with Johns telling him he shouldn’t accept the gift; other staff members and professional staff have said the same thing; and SA members have expressed that Johns indicated he knew this was inappropriate behavior.
Johns knew what he was doing was wrong and chose to do it anyway.
His interview for an Aug. 22 BuzzFeed article regarding President Obama’s visit to the university, Edward Snowden and the NSA controversy was inappropriate as well. Many staff members objected to the nature of this interview and his doing so without the rest of SA’s knowledge beforehand.
Simply stated, Johns shouldn’t be making political statements on behalf of the student body – especially when he had no corroborating evidence to support his conclusions.
When we asked him about this, his answer reflected his consistently poor judgment: that his friends’ disapproval of the NSA surveillance program was sufficient grounds for his decision to make the statement.
When we subsequently asked him if his friends’ views reflected the views of the entire student population, he conceded.