Voting for student body elections ends in two days, but as candidates continue last-minute campaigning, some may have complaints filed against them.
However, these will not be released until Student Government (SG) processes a public record request pertaining to the grievances filed by The Oracle on Tuesday, after a request filed last week via email was deemed invalid due to an SG policy that states requests for records must be filed on a form in the SG office, despite Florida State Statute Chapter 119 which allows for requests to be made in any form, including verbally.
The SG supervisor of elections and head of the Election Rules Committee (ERC), Sayf Hassouneh, said there are grievances that have been filed, but the number and nature of them are still under investigation by the ERC.
Hassouneh said USF General Counsel told SG that it is not bound by Sunshine State Laws – the informal name of the series of public record laws that date back to 1909 which allows for any records made or received by a public agency to be inspected or requested by members of the general public as part of Florida’s open government policies – and thus compliance with them, as he said, is a “courtesy” and “voluntary.”
In an email sent Tuesday evening by Associate General Counsel Joanne Adamchak to Gary Manka, director of SG Advising, Training and Operations, Adamchak said “SG is not an agency as defined by Chapter 119.”
“However, the USF SG has voluntarily agreed to make its records public and hold open meetings, while respecting the privacy statutes regarding students,” the email said. “The question is whether SG can establish some internal guidelines with regard to producing records that involve students.
“Although Chapter 119 prohibits agencies from having proscribed ways of requesting public records, as SG is not an agency by definition under the statute and SG records may be interpreted to directly relate to students, SG may establish protocols to enable SG to track the requests for SG records by requiring the requests to be in writing, maintaining the requests, recording the date of the requests and to whom the records are released.”
Manka, who is custodian of SG’s records, said Tuesday afternoon that filing the forms out in the office was the “preferred method,” but requests could also be made to him either verbally or through email.
The Oracle requested information from Hassouneh about any grievances filed by current candidates for SG on Feb. 19 via email and phone call. However, no grievances had been filed at the time.
The Oracle requested information again the next day, this time over the phone to Manka. Manka said there was at least one grievance filed, but must first be verified by the ERC. On Thursday and Friday, Manka was called again, and said the ERC had not yet met to discuss the complaints.
On Monday, which marked the first day of voting in the student elections, Manka said the ERC had met and information on grievances would come “soon.”
Manka left a voicemail for The Oracle on Tuesday, asking for clarification on what information was specifically requested. The Oracle filed the SG public record form during an in-person visit to the SG office.
According to Hassouneh, two grievances were filed last week and “thrown out” for being “fallacious.” Currently, he said there are “around three” other grievances but would not specify further until the public records were finished being processed, which could take up to five days per SG statutes.
In an email to The Oracle, Manka said he asked Hassouneh to expedite the request filed Tuesday and has five days to comply per SG statute 205.1.4.
In Adamchak’s email, she said there is an ongoing discussion and the Florida Attorney General (AG) has declined to clarify if student governments could be considered agencies under Chapter 119.
“When and if the AG or other court provides any additional guidance in this regard, SG will be required to comply with those current directives,” the email stated. “I am out of the office this week on leave, however on my return I will try and compile the most current case law and the AG responses with regard to this issue and provide them to you.”
As of Tuesday, all candidates running for student body president said they did not know any specifics about what the grievances were about or whom they were filed against, but they did state there are hearings being planned this week to investigate the complaints.
Voting for student body elections closes Thursday at 8 p.m.