While looking into a possible reclassification of positions in its business office, Student Government has taken a number of twists and turns that may leave students outside the organization confused over each entity’s financial responsibilities.
As the structure for Student Government Administrative Services stands, it remains a separate entity from SG for the sole purpose of being free from political influence when analyzing and making recommendations as to how students’ Activity and Service fees should be spent.
This semester, all students paid $8.08 per credit hour to help fund groups such as the Campus Activity Board and events such as Homecoming. Although SG produces the ideas on which to spend the money, it must submit all proposals to SGAS for review before any money can be disbursed.
Earlier this semester, many senators began to question the reasoning behind some of the decisions SGAS was making and together with senate president Barclay Harless, constructed bill 47-101.
The bill would rewrite all of Title IX of the SG statutes, which outlines the make-up of SGAS.
“We had individual senators that had concerns, students that had concerns, about certain things that were going on with SGAS, and from day one, that was the reasoning behind (revising the role of) SGAS,” Harless said.
Original drafts of the bill called for SGAS to move from being a separate entity to being under the SG umbrella. Although the student body president would not have the power to fire the comptroller, he would be given the authority to recommend someone for the position and, if approved by senate, the comptroller would then have the power to hire his/her own staff.
“I was a part of the construction of the bill,” Harless said. “One of the themes this year that senate is really trying to work on is accountability and SGAS is basically the accountants that handle the 9.3 million (SG’s A&S Fee allocation). Basically, the senate and some of executive branch is in charge of allocating the fees of the 9.3, and basically we wanted to be more accountable on SGAS. So, in other words, we are more accountable on the 9.3.”
Senate Pro-Tempore Nathan Davison agreed with Harless’ remarks and added that a revision was necessary for Title IX anyway, due to the fact it hadn’t been thoroughly rewritten in several years.
“In the current text it doesn’t say what SGAS is and what it isn’t,” Davison said. “It says what its responsibilities are, but in the current text it doesn’t give any further insight into whether or not it’s part of the system. In the current text it is very vague.”
Bill 101 came under scrutiny within the first minutes of being introduced on the senate floor due to its seemingly unethical presentation.
According to senate’s standard rules of procedure, bills must be introduced during a predetermined time. Most bills must first be written into the agenda prior to meetings and must go through a minimum weeklong process including two different readings on the senate floor before being voted on.
In a loophole, senators may vote to suspend rules of procedure, making these rules null and void for a period of time.
During the last 10 minutes of senate, all three rules were suspended.
An attempt to vote on the bill was thwarted only because Davison – who was filling in for Harless that evening – rejected the motion.
Those involved in writing the bill, said there is no intention of corruption or deception. They say the lines of communication between the two offices, were skewed over recent years and SGAS’ funding decisions – or lack there of – weren’t properly presented to SG.
“More power and more control were not in the equation at all,” Harless said. “It was simply more accountability, more talking – getting reports on what was happening. At one point apparently our budget, which was submitted to Dr. (Carl) Carlucci, the Chief Financial Officer of USF, was sent back. Now obviously, that was just a minor concern, not a problem but we were never told about that.”
Davison assured the bills creators did not want complete control over SGAS, and said that everyone in SG is striving for more checks and balances to hopefully create unity between the two.
“The first step is acceptance and the recognition that there is in fact a problem … There is a problem that we recognize and I think everyone else is coming to terms with that too,” Davison said. “The next step now is coping and coming up and dealing with the other stuff necessary to come to a recovery.”
One week after the bill was brought to the floor, Vice President of Student Affairs Jennifer Meningall called an impromptu meeting for SG members involved or interested in the proposed legislation.
She also brought several high-ranking officials including Carlucci and Dean of Students Kevin Banks to discuss the reasons behind bill 101.
Although the issues were not resolved that evening, Meningall took the names and email addresses of all those in attendance and promised to work with Banks to form investigatory groups to get a better understanding of the issues presented.
Since the meeting, Meningall has contacted student body president Frank Harrison, and both created separate task forces from their respective departments to work with the issues.
Until the task forces complete their findings, Harless has decided not to allow any bill pertaining to bill 101 to be read on the senate floor.
SGAS Comptroller Thomas King said that keeping the lines of communication open are key to making whatever transition SGAS might undergo next semester, and his department is thoroughly onboard with aiding in the decision making process.
“Basically from my discussions that I’ve had with the senate president, we’re working to improve the communication between both of our offices and the rest of Student Government in order to make sure that our finances are transparent and that we’re accountable to the students in terms of providing reports -perhaps to the senate – basically giving them information about what’s going on with the A&S money considering it’s student money,” King said. “I’m a student – so are all of my staff members – so we’re all very excited and eager to work on it because of what occurred after with bill 101…We’re working on the future to ensure that Student Government is better in the long run and its better when we’re not here so that we can be the best Student Government in Florida and we can work towards that by working together.”
Those involved with bill 101 said that depending on the findings of the task forces, the bill may never make it back to the senate floor, but departmental changes will ultimately be made.
“It goes back to the classic saying ‘who watches the watchers,'” Harless said. “We need SGAS probably more than any other department or agency or function of SG because it does keep us accountable, but at the same time if they’re handling some of our money, we need to at least hold them accountable by being informed on what’s going on and up to date. We’re all trying to get on the same page and work through this one and accountability is the end goal, not trying to get bills passed. It’s not about changing powers, it’s about clarifications.”