SA pushes to become not-for-profit

While Student Association President Travis Nemmer admits it isn't the "sexiest issue," he thinks it's the most important change being made under his administration.

On Feb. 17, Nemmer made a proposal to the SA Senate to turn SA into a not-for-profit organization. The proposal was overwhelmingly supported by the Senate, which approved it with 13 senators voting for it and two abstaining.

Nemmer worked with SA attorney Joshua Korman to produce the document outlining how SA would benefit from incorporation and how to start the process. The main purposes for becoming a not-for-profit is to strengthen liability protection, establish an independent identity and streamline finances, according to Nemmer.

He said he didn't need Senate's approval but wanted its support.

The Senate also voted to make the proposal a referendum issue, which means the student body will vote on whether to incorporate SA during the upcoming election. The referendum proposal was approved with 14-0-1 vote.

If the student body votes to approve incorporation, SA will officially become the Student Association, Inc., at the end of spring 2014 semester.

Senate Chair Jonathan Grunin said the approval from the Senate was largely based on the liability issue.

"The senators felt that full liability upon the executive board was one, unnecessary and two, unfair," Grunin said. "God forbid anything happens to the organization that is not their fault, the executive board as individuals should not be held liable for million-dollar lawsuits."

Nemmer said the decision to change SA into a not-for-profit was not a result of last spring's $300,000 scandal. The idea was in the works before former Treasurer Sikander Khan signed a contract involving a fraudulent company in 2012. Nemmer said he is following through with something that was started before his administration was elected.

Nemmer said if SA was to incorporate, an individual on the executive board will not be held liable for something a part of the organization is responsible for; instead, the organization will be held accountable.

"Given the growingly litigious climate, it is increasingly likely that SA, Sub-Board or some other student government will get sued," Nemmer said. "The most important thing that can come out of this is that we establish our own corporate identity."

Senator Michael Calliste added if an individual acts "egregiously" or breaks the SA Constitution, that individual could be singled out and held accountable rather than SA as a whole.

Senator Marissa Malone said in an email that incorporating will draw a line between SA and other student organizations because SA will no longer be "held personally responsible for anything out of [its] control."

Nemmer is also concerned with the "murky" line that exists between Sub-Board, Inc. (SBI) and SA. Incorporating will define where "SBI ends and SA begins."

SBI is a not-for-profit corporation designed to enhance student life at UB, according to SBI President Chris Noll. It is the fiscal agent, as specified by the Mandatory Student Activity Fee Guidelines, which states the fiscal agent is responsible for the "disbursal of student activity fee funds." SBI also provides undergraduate students with access to SBI's services like Health Education and SBI Safety Services, Off-Campus Housing, Pharmacy, Legal Assistance and others.

"As an officer of SBI, it's not my place to comment on what the Student Association is doing internally," Noll said in an email. "I can say that the Student Association obtaining not-for-profit status will have minimal impact on the relationship it currently has with Sub-Board, Inc."

Senator Michael Calliste believes establishing independence from SBI is an important step in "getting rid of the unnecessary bureaucracy."

Calliste, who is also an active member in clubs like the College Democrats, Mock Trial and Model UN, said he has heard people complain about how difficult it is to push checks through SA. He said incorporating will streamline the finance process and make SA run more efficiently.

Nemmer said titles may be different - like SA changing its name to Student Association, Inc., and the Senate would act as a Board of Directors - and the SA Constitution and by-laws will have to be revised to include New York State not-for-profit laws.

The basis of SA's internal controls will now be New York State non-profit law, which Nemmer said goes much further and has much more legitimacy than anything SA or the university can write.

He said the way SA operates will ultimately stay the same. Most of the changes will come through tax filing and record keeping, which he said would solely reflect SA and not Sub Board's operations.

Nemmer said he spoke with Dennis Black, vice president of University Life and Services, and Barbara Ricotta, associate vice president of Student Affairs, regarding the change. Nemmer said they told him they will not stop him from pursuing incorporation. He said their response is "the closest thing to support we were going to get out of them." He plans to speak with Black and Ricotta again to discuss his proposal.