The following is the second installment in a series of articles regarding ethical and legal concerns about recent actions taken by Associated Students permanent staff.
With no mention of a name, committee or particular incident, On-Campus Representative Lesa Bishop asked her adviser — a university employee charged with overseeing “the enforcement of all Associated Students policies and procedures” — how an alleged conflict of interest could exist in the case of a student serving as a non-voting committee chair.
A.S. Executive Director Marisela Marquez rejected the question on the grounds that it was too specific for Wednesday night’s public Legislative Council meeting, prompting Bishop to clarify that her query described a hypothetical scenario involving any chair of any committee.
Seemingly satisfied, Marquez explained how and why she utilizes preemptive action to follow through on impulses of keen perception and dispel the dangers of the unknown.
“If you’re talking about, say, the Internal Vice President, it doesn’t have a vote but there is a great deal of pressure that could be brought on them, potentially,” Marquez said. “At the very least, there’s a perception of a conflict of interest; that’s the issue we’re charged with making sure doesn’t happen. If these are potentially two trains that are going to cross and derail, then why wait until it gets derailed?”
Under the direction of Marquez, A.S. Associate Director for Special Projects Denise Rinaldi threatened to exercise the permanent staff’s power to terminate student employees in an ultimatum offered to former Judicial Council chair Jeanne Sabin. Given the choice to keep either her job as Legislative Council’s minute-taker — a title she’s held for three years that provides a consistent, hourly income — or her newly-appointed position as the non-voting chair of Judicial Council, Sabin tearfully resigned from the latter on Sept. 28.
Sabin declined to comment, saying she feared repercussions from the permanent staff.
Many members of the council, including Internal Vice President Chloe Stryker, spoke out against Marquez’s claim that holding the two positions at once could present a plausible conflict of interest.
“Because she’s the minute-taker of Legislative Council and she doesn’t hold an elected position … All she does is listen to what’s said and write it down,” Stryker said. “Students from both parties were really outraged.”
A council member brought the issue of inconsistent policy enforcement to the meeting’s forefront when he attempted to explain how he knows other students who hold similar dual positions within A.S., but was interrupted when Stryker requested that he “try not to be specific, please.”
According to On-Campus Representative Kristian Whittaker, Marquez spoke to council members at Legislative Council’s retreat last weekend and encouraged them to consider holding closed meetings and speaking cryptically during open meetings to avoid controversy. While Article VI, Section 1 allows Legislative Council to hold closed meetings with the approval of two-thirds of the members, Whittaker said Marquez’s recommendations extended beyond conducting private business behind closed doors.
“Well, what we would do is we would ask for the person [at the podium] to present an example that would be similar to the situation, but not so much exactly the situation,” Whittaker[[ok]] said.
In spite of her own recommendations, Marquez allowed the violation of mandated vagueness and asked a favor of the council.
“Staff would prefer not to do those dual appointments, so if you have those folks that you want to point out to me, that would be helpful,” Marquez said in complete seriousness as many council members and attendees failed to stifle their laughter.
On-Campus Representative Jonathan Abboud said whether or not the contentious policy is permitted, allegations of a conflict of interest simply do not make sense in Sabin’s case.
“Jeanne is the most unbiased person in A.S.,” Abboud said. “I don’t think she would be biased at all, and that’s why I was so opposed to her being put in that position. … We were all really confused, like, ‘Did this just happen? Seriously?’”
Additionally, Article VI, Section 2 of the Legal Code recognizes the A.S. President’s clear authority over the Executive Director, stating that “The President shall: 1) Be the Chief Executive Officer of the Associated Students and shall coordinate and be responsible for the functioning of the A.S. Executive Director.”
Abboud cited Sabin’s excellent record with Presidents past and current as another compelling and legally verified reason to allow her to serve in both roles.
“[Jeanne] has seen three different Legislative Councils, three different Presidents and she’s taken the minutes consistently,” Abboud said. “She really wanted to get involved in A.S. as an appointed member and that’s when she went to Judicial Council because that’s what she thought she’d be good at, and two different Presidents thought she would be good at that job — Harrison and Paul.”
Former A.S. President J.P. Primeau, who served during the 2008-09 school year, said he often clashed with permanent staff members in a continuous struggle for authority.
“One of my key goals as President was to change the relationship between students and administrators,” Primeau wrote in the A.S. 08-09 Annual Report. “I had always felt that, despite our tremendous ability to organize and advocate, we reacted to university policy after it had been established (Minimum Cumulative Progress being the prime example). To change that policy students would need to take a more proactive approach based on shared governance — simply put, more students needed to be at the table when big decisions were made.”
Third Supervisorial District Representative for Santa Barbara County Democratic Central Committee and Mixed Student Union Co-Chair Nicole Leopardo, who ran for External Vice President of Local Affairs with the Democratic Process Party last Spring, said the staff’s hard work often goes unappreciated but has also threatened the autonomy of various groups and members within the organization.
“Sometimes I want the permanent staff to step in and make decisions because I feel like they might be the most logical people in some situations, but other times, like with this situation, [students] should be able to make their decisions,” Leopardo said. “Harrison should be able to make his appointments. That’s not saying we can’t be critical of him, but I just don’t know how I feel about permanent staff kind of stomping on his decisions.”
In addition, Leopardo said she’s shocked by the permanent staff’s lack of legislative authorization for their interference in students’ jurisdiction.
“There’s no one to check them,” Leopardo said. “There’s no one to say, ‘Hey, you’re not doing your job,’ and that’s what we as students should be doing. There is no democratic process; there are no checks and balances. Right now, it’s a difficult situation.”
Sabin’s removal leaves the council below quorum with only two remaining members. As such, it cannot function as a judiciary body nor can it move forward with proceedings on currently unresolved cases, such as one from last Spring involving several members of Open People’s Party.
As a result of unsubstantiated allegations, four elected Legislative Council members were removed from their positions and replaced by the four closest runners-up despite the fact that Judicial Council has yet to reach a ruling. The council is currently seeking applicants and was expected to resolve the case this quarter after accepting the accused party’s petition for a hearing in late May.
Stryker said any students with concerns can contact the Attorney General or submit a petition or file a case with Judicial Council, which will be reviewed as soon as the entity reaches its quorum of three members.
In the interim, Abboud said he will be working with the ad hoc committee to put measures in place to protect student employee rights.
“My personal goal would be to codify exactly what rights A.S. [student] employees have,” Abboud said. “Do they or do they not have the right to be appointed members of A.S.? Personally, I would want them to have that right; probably everyone on Legislative Council does, but I’m not going to speak for them — I can’t — but it seems that she should be able to participate in A.S. and take our minutes.”
Stryker said while maintaining a working balance between the staff and the students can be taxing, a unified Legislative Council can reinstate its ultimate authority by ballot, if needed.
“It’s a really tough relationship between the staff end of A.S. and the Legal Code part of A.S. because there’s nothing really in the Legal Code that gives any protection over the students when it comes to what happens if admin disagrees, except for the Executive Director — she can be voted out by three-fourths of Legislative Council.”
The first installment of this article can be found at the following location: http://www.dailynexus.com/2011-10-06/director-intrudes-student-rights/