One would think Student Government (SG) aims to make it as convenient as possible for students to be aware of what is happening, especially during an election process.
However, SG, which is responsible for the allotment of the $14 million of Activity and Service fees paid by students, seems to think it has an upper hand in limiting some of its obligations – even those enforced by Florida State Statutes.
As the chaos of the student body elections comes toward resolution, some issues appear to remain unresolved. Last month, after The Oracle attempted to file requests for public records, the SG Election Rules Committee (ERC) revealed that SG’s compliance with state laws was “voluntary.”
Yet, a later public record revealed that, though ERC Supervisor Sayf Hassouneh was advised by the SG Advising, Training and Operations adviser to turn over the records that day, Hassouneh said he “was more comfortable with” Associate General Counsel Jodi Adamchak’s opinion that SG compliance was voluntary because “she is a professional in the legal field.”
Yet emails from Adamchak further advised Hassouneh to turn over records as soon as possible to avoid legal discrepancies. Adamchak said in her email that SG isn’t defined as an agency by Chapter 119, but that was in reference to SG requesting a point of entry form to make requests on and she advised filing them as soon as possible.
It is inexcusable for SG to delay the release of documents that were already certified by the ERC and in SG’s possession.
The desire to keep track of its public records requests should not take precedence over providing students with information in a timely manner, especially when all it takes is the click of a
mouse – a click that was already done for student candidates before grievance hearings but took days for The Oracle’s request for the same documents.
It seems SG floats in its own statutory limbo, since Florida Statutes Chapter 119 states public records or documents from a public agency can be requested in any way, from an email to a phone call – both fruitless means of communication when seeking documents from SG.
While SG is capable of working around state laws by not being considered a public agency, it is still a part of USF, which is a public agency. SG should not be exempt from Florida laws, as confirmed by Barbara Peterson, president of the First Amendment Foundation, an organization specializing in Florida’s open government laws.
Another loophole available to SG is seen in its statute that restricts recording in its meetings to SG members, which is in place despite Florida laws addressing that citizens cannot be prohibited from doing so.
Aside from being a legal contradiction, SG’s noncompliance with Florida laws damages its integrity to the student body, especially during an election. Instead of simply providing information – especially that which is immediately relevant to students – as soon as it is available, SG chooses to abide by its excused “preference” rather than act according to Florida laws.
It is uncalled for that SG, which is meant to represent students, knowingly makes gathering information specifically related to the future of the student body a tedious process. Regardless of whether it wants to continue dancing around the role of a public agency or not, it needs to amend these inconsistencies in the interest of informing students.