Student Association senate votes to increase stipends for e-board members next year
Officials said they were disappointed with the tone of the four-hour-long meeting
The Student Association senate voted to increase its executive board stipends to the highest in UB history after a tense, four-hour-long meeting Friday night.
The senate approved the stipends, as well as the 2019-20 SA budget during the meeting. Some SA officials said the meeting consisted of “unhealthy debate” and “unnecessary vile language.” SA senators voted to increase e-board stipends from $15,000 to $15,750 for the president, vice president and treasurer. Budget and stipend discussions lasted for nearly three hours. Some senators used the time to review the 14-page document detailing the $4.5 million budget allocation.
UB’s SA is one of the highest-paid and largest student governments compared to other SUNY schools, according to SA President Gunnar Haberl. His e-board’s budget proposal didn’t increase the stipends for the e-board.
SA did not send out the budget or the agenda to senate members before the meeting, according to Senate Chairperson Eric Weinman.
Friday’s meeting was the longest of the year; it started with 18 SA members, six of whom were proxies for senators not present, and ended with 12.
Tensions ran high throughout the meeting, and senators complained about being hungry and having other plans while others checked social media. Haberl said he was “disappointed” with the tone of the meeting and the “lack of respect” on both sides of issues.
“During that meeting, there was unnecessary, vile language and attitude that took away from what we needed to do,” Haberl said.
Sam Nelson, an SA senator, said she understood the duration of the meeting made members “very tired” and that many “wanted to leave,” but still believed they should have been more civil.
“We were in the fourth hour of the meeting, so I understand why people were upset,” Nelson said. “But it’s not the attitude people should be having because this was one of the more important meetings we had this semester.”
Weinman said discussion during the meeting was not conducive to decision-making, as people rehashed the same arguments repeatedly over the course of the two-hour budget discussion.
E-board stipends are now $15,750
Kendra Harris, current SA senator and treasurer-elect, and Yousouf Amolegbe, president-elect, presented their own allocation of stipends which increased e-board stipends by $1,500, as an alternative to current SA treasurer Tanahiry Escamilla’s proposal, which kept the stipends for e-board members the same as the last two years.
Harris said she proposed to increase stipends to remove the economic barrier that may deter students from running for e-board, as her party ran on a platform that included socio-economic awareness.
"In reality, a student with little to no financial support needs to make more than $15,000 a year to sustain themselves, especially if they are working 30-40 hours every work," Harris wrote.
Senators decided to increase the stipends for president, vice president and treasurer by $750 instead of the proposed $1,500.
Some senators were “confused” about aspects of the stipends and wished they had more time to review it.
“I feel like the information presented was confusing and at that point half the room already left and everyone else wanted to leave,” Nelson said.
Escamilla said she wished Harris and Amolegbe did more research before presenting their stipend proposal. She said she met with them only two hours before the meeting to talk about her own experience with allocating stipends for SA positions.
“I wasn’t able to give them the information needed to make those decisions,” Escamilla said. “Had they reached out earlier to HR or professional staff, they could have had a better idea in regards to what those positions entail.”
Harris and Amolegbe handed out their stipend proposal at the beginning of the meeting, changed parts of the proposal during the meeting then projected the changes during their presentation.
Other senators, like Omran Albarazanchi, felt that Harris and Amolegbe should have left the room while senators voted on their proposed stipends, just as current e-board members did when senators voted on their proposed budget.
“I’m not sure if [Harris and Amolegbe] understood the ethics behind it, but it was unethical for them to stay in the room,” Albarazanchi said.
Weinman also said he felt it was “in the best interest” of the senate for Harris and Amolegbe to leave the room but said it was ultimately an “ethical decision” of their own discretion.
In an email, Harris wrote that she could not leave the room as the senate would lose quorum, and asking Yousouf, who was a visitor, to leave the room would be a violation of Open Meetings Law.
The budget passes after a two-hour discussion
SA treasurer Tanahiry Escamilla’s presentation of the budget was met with criticism since she did not send out the document for senators to review beforehand.
Escamilla responded, saying she didn’t want to send out the budget because she feared it would be published in The Spectrum or on social media.
“If it was posted it could have been misused or misunderstood,” Escamilla said.
Some senators asked if voting on the budget could be postponed until the next meeting so they could review the documents.
“I don’t think it’s realistic to read through this in five minutes and vote on it and later on realize there was a problem with it,” SA senator Nick Singh said.
But other senators also brought up that they didn’t want to “risk” the proposed budget being “posted all over the place,” and suggested those concerned about the budget join the finance committee that decides on it.
Others didn’t see an issue with the budget draft being made public.
“I’m not OK with saying if we don’t pass this budget tonight it will become public, as if that’s a problem,” Dan Connolly, SA Hobby Coordinator, said.
Escamilla went through the budget line by line and answered questions from senators for over 50 minutes, after which voting took an additional hour.
“I never understood how a $4.5 million budget could be passed in 20 minutes. I want to understand the numbers,” Albarazanchi said.
There is an SA finance committee that puts together the proposed budget. It’s comprised of six senators, chosen from their applications.
“Every senator had a fair chance to apply for finance committee,” Escamilla said.
However, Albarazanchi said SA gave out applications for the finance committee at a meeting he didn’t attend, and that applications aren’t as “open” as they make them seem.
“I asked Tana [Escamilla] about finance committee applications in an email and she said she was working on an application the lawyer needed to review,” Albarazanchi said.
The finance committee is supposed to be open to all senators to attend, but only the finance committee members can vote.
“I went to go see what finance committee was about one day and I had the door shut in my face by a coordinator,” Albarazanchi said.
Weinman said he was “disappointed” that senators who asked for time to review documents were on their phones when Escamilla went through the budget, an issue SA Vice President Anyssa Evelyn also brought up during the meeting.
“We had a two-hour discussion on the budget, and we had the same kind of arguments or points people brought up half an hour or an hour or an hour and a half into the discussion,” Weinman said. “[The meeting] was not about the budget itself, but about complaints people had.”
Tanveen is a co-senior news editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TanveenUBSpec.