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Tuesday, April 20, 2021
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SA removes Hobby Council coordinator following abuse of power, harassment allegations

Organization reconvened for vote after deliberations erupted into a shouting match last week

Zackary Graham (far right, blue and brown flannel shirt) has been removed as Hobby Council coordinator.
Zackary Graham (far right, blue and brown flannel shirt) has been removed as Hobby Council coordinator.

The Student Association Board of Directors voted Wednesday to remove Hobby Council Coordinator Zackary Graham from SA and revoke the remainder of his $5,850 stipend.

The board reconvened to vote on Graham’s removal Wednesday evening after reviewing the harassment and abuse of power allegations leveled at Graham during last week’s explosive three-hour BOD meeting. The vote came on the heels of an especially high-turnover year for the organization — SA has cycled through three presidents in the past three months.

Eight BOD members voted to remove Graham from his SA role. Graham, who sat on the board at the time of the vote, cast the sole ballot against his removal. The meeting was livestreamed to Facebook, where viewership fluctuated and eventually peaked at just over 250 live viewers.

The Board of Directors first launched an investigation into Graham’s misconduct three months ago, when UB Mock Trial Club members reported Graham for threatening to derecognize and defund the club as an act of retaliation against Mock Trial members who cut ties with Graham over non-SA-related drama last summer. Mock Trial president Patrick Higgins and vice president Shanaz Uddin led the presentation of evidence against Graham last week, which included hostile text messages, voicemails and incessant phone calls they said proved Graham repeatedly harassed Mock Trial members in November. 

Graham, a former Mock Trial president, said he forged personal ties with several of the club’s members during his time with the group and considered their relationship “pretty chummy.” He cited “personal petty drama” as the driving force of conflict between himself and several of the club’s members. 

Most of the club’s members had stopped speaking with Graham months before the threats began due to drama between Graham, his roommates and several Mock Trial members during the summer, Higgins told the Board of Directors. But Graham still reached out to the club’s members and aired out his grievances with them in a Discord group chat last fall, Higgins said.

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The vote came on the heels of an especially high-turnover year for the organization — SA has cycled through three presidents in the past three months.

According to Higgins’ and Uddin’s phone call records and screenshots, Graham continued to attempt to contact the club’s members individually after he was removed from Mock Trial’s Discord, messaging one Mock Trial member, “all of Mock Trial, Pat and Shanaz refuse to talk to me; and because of it, if they don’t, I have full authority to derecognize them. I just want a civil convo.”

Later, Graham became less civil, messaging Mock trial secretary, Joseph Balsamo: "Either talk to me now, or you’re f—d."

Graham also texted Higgins multiple times on Nov. 19, writing, “Dude. Call me. Either talk like a man or f— mock trial. Not that hard.”

That same day, Graham called Higgins 22 times and left five voicemails. 

Higgins played the voicemails for the board’s members during last week’s meeting. In the voicemails, Graham tells Mock Trial members he had the support of other BOD members to derecognize the club, which was untrue according to the SA e-board.

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Statements signed by SA Treasurer Sayan Trotman and former SA Presidents Alyssa Palacios and Adolyn Colfie stressed that nobody on the e-board had even been aware of the situation between Graham and Mock Trial members. 

“In my opinion it’s very clear with the abuse of power [because] Zack saying he had spoken to us as the e-board and just using our names to back up [his lies] and manipulate the club is unfair and I stand with the rest of the e-board in saying that we never said any of that or communicated with Zack about this situation specifically,” Palacios said in a statement to the BOD last week. 

Mock Trial members also raised concerns that Graham, 25, caused Uddin, 18, to feel uncomfortable and unsafe after he asked her to have coffee with him last semester. According to her comments during the BOD meeting, Uddin consulted with a Title IX coordinator several times during the past few months to talk about the incident and Graham’s subsequent harassment of the club’s members. Shenaaz has declined to launch a Title IX investigation into Graham’s conduct, but the option to do so remains available to her, she said. 

On Wednesday, board members changed the meeting procedure to allow for the muting of attendees’ microphones. They also invited Barbara Ricotta, senior associate vice president for student life, to “make sure the meeting was civil and organized” so members could vote on the evidence presented last week. 

Last week, Graham repeatedly spoke out of turn, stonewalled votes and delivered “filibusters,” which made it difficult to present evidence and obstructed the board’s voting procedures, Higgins said. 

Graham appeared somewhat calmer this week as he attempted to appeal the board’s decisions, arguing that his behavior was not egregious enough to warrant a university investigation, and therefore, could not serve as grounds for his removal from SA.

NetraMittal_ZacharyGraham_RISE.jpg
Courtesy of R.I.S.E. Party
Last September, Graham and Netra Mittal ran for SA e-board on the R.I.S.E. party line.

“There was no cause,” he told the board in an appeal of the removal. “Again, there was no disciplinary action pursued [against me by the university]. There was no legal action pursued aside from the ‘kangaroo court hearings’ that the board has held.” 

Graham added that he would like to bring the matter of his SA removal to the attention of a student-wide judiciary and challenged the validity of the SA’s move to oust him.

“I really think this needs to happen in the student-wide judiciary, which it’s going to either way, but again my appeal is that this is a totally illegal and invalid motion. The board is not vested with this power especially because there isn’t cause because it was not determined disciplinarily, legally, anything like that, so again that’s why I’m appealing.”

But SA Administrative Director Mark RP Sorel struck down Graham’s defense, arguing that Graham’s verbal jousting, insults and interruptions during the last BOD meeting were some of the worst displays of SA conduct he had witnessed in his decades-long career at UB. 

“I’ve worked here for thirty years and only three times have I seen as much disrespect toward one’s peers as I witnessed last week,” Sorel said. “It’s incomprehensible to me that someone who considers themselves a student leader would go out there and belittle himself, his club that he came from, his constituents and the board of directors and the organization that he works for. That was witnessed publicly on Facebook last week. If that is not cause [for Graham’s removal], I don’t know what is.”

Graham declined to comment on the allegations leveled against him or the events of the past two board meetings, as he is “considering how to move forward with consultation from UB and an Attorney.”

SA President and e-board chair Nelaje Branch, introduced two motions in addition to those pertaining to Graham’s role in SA. The first was a motion to curb disruptions at SA meetings by amending the SA’s Rules of Procedure to require that all participants in virtual meetings be muted upon entry and unmuted by the chair as they are recognized to speak. 

The second sought to limit future Hobby Council Coordinators’ powers by requiring clubs to register their voting representative with the SA Elections and Credentials Chairperson rather than the Hobby Council coordinator. This override of the council’s constitution will help correct a “lack of checks and balances” in the hobby council, SA Lawyer Joshua Korman said. Both motions passed. 

It remains unclear if the Hobby Council Coordinator role will remain vacant for the remainder of the Spring 2021 semester. 

Elizabeth Napolitano is the senior news editor and can be reached at elizabeth.napolitano@ubspectrum.com


ELIZABETH NAPOLITANO

Elizabeth "Liz" Napolitano is the senior news editor for The Spectrum. She's an optimistic pessimist who found her love for journalism in Ecuador. She likes late night walks and reading Twitter threads in their entirety. 

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