SG branch heads cleared from grievance

The Judiciary and Ethics Committee (JEC) struck down a student grievance Monday against Student Government (SG) President Jean Cocco and the heads of the SG legislative and judicial branches.

The committee found that the three branch heads were not in violation of the statutes and sections of the constitution written in a grievance filed by Katharine Orr, a senior majoring in biomedical sciences and political science.

JEC Chairwoman Kristen Truong said the decision came down to Orr naming the wrong people on her grievance.

“(The Committee) does feel as if there needs to be something done, but those people aren’t necessarily the ones that are actually violating it,” Truong said. 

Orr said she disagrees with the JEC’s findings and felt their decision was a “cop-out.”

“Just because the right person wasn’t listed doesn’t mean the complaint isn’t valid and it isn’t a valid issue,” Orr said.

Specifically, the JEC found that they did not violate their oath of office or the public disclosure statutes requiring SG to make transcripts of public meetings available to students and give students proper notice of public meetings.

Orr filed an official grievance with SG on Oct. 31 claiming SG leaders were preventing student feedback from being presented in meetings and called on SG to be more transparent and accountable in how it communicates with students.

In her grievance, Orr cited a lack of meeting minutes and issues with branches not regularly updating their respective online calendars.

At the time of print, the SG website had only two Senate meeting transcripts available from the last 12 months and no updates were made to the website’s legislative branch calendar.

Orr said she felt like asking students to name the specific SG officials who are responsible for the subject of grievances puts an unnecessary burden on students who have legitimate complaints with how SG is operating.

“If it requires a very specific person to make sure that the accountability is there and I don’t know exactly who it is, then nothing really gets solved,” Orr said. “It becomes this giant blame game of who is responsible and, at the end of the day, students are getting screwed here.”

JEC members did, however, make a few non-binding recommendations.

They recommended SG create a public notice Listserv, a mass email chain, to inform student of upcoming events, though Truong said the Listserv has yet to be set up and SG has not yet acquired permission from the university to send out a mass email to students.

The Listserv would then be posted on social media and on SG’s website, per the committees recommendation. 

“They are trying to make it way harder on themselves,” Orr said. “I think students go to their website, that’s what it is there for. A Listserv is just another obligation or another task that we are assigning them that they probably aren’t going to be 100 percent on anyway.”

The committee also recommended the three branches upload, within the next 10 days, the audio recordings of all the meetings for which they have yet to produce a transcript.

Even if the SG branches adhered to the JEC’s recommendation, it would not satisfy SG requirements for transcripts of public meetings, which require all minutes to be voted on and approved by the Senate, or state requirements that require written minutes.

In his written statement to the JEC committee, SG Senate President Pro-Tempore Abdool Aziz said the legislative branch is currently using “the majority” of its payroll to transcribe minutes. 

Aziz blamed his predecessor for not making him aware that the transcriber for Senate committee meetings had graduated and moved on from the university. 

Though Aziz gives a detailed account of the months-long hiring and training process for the current transcribers in his statement to the JEC, he did not say how the Senate committee transcriber leaving resulted in a lack of minutes for the regular Senate meetings.

Statements from Aziz to the JEC also reveal that SG may not be in control of complying with state law, which requires public agencies to “promptly” record minutes and make them publicly available.

“ … The SG control of the website is left into the hands of IT,” Aziz said in a statement to the committee. “SG depends on IT and their turnaround for placement of anything on the website. The time range of when items appear on the website after submission range from twenty four (hours) to a span of weeks.”

Aziz further claimed the records of SG meetings are available in multiple formats including YouTube video recordings, audio recordings and written transcriptions. Only the YouTube videos were available to students at the time of print.

Though Aziz said SG strives for transparency by putting meeting dates and times on the Marshall Student Center screens (MSC) and social media, dates and times of committee and Senate meetings have not been posted on the official SG Twitter or Facebook accounts since at least June.

Addressing the issue of a lack of calendar updates on SG’s website, both Aziz and Maggie Hall, SG director of communications, said in their statements to the committee that the calendar is just a courtesy to students and doesn’t have to be updated.

“The calendar claim is not valid as any student government or state entity is not required to present a calendar,” Aziz said in a statement to the JEC. “Moreover, I do not have access to the current calendar.”

The JEC findings will be presented to the SG Senate tonight at its regular meeting in the Senate Chambers on the fourth floor of the MSC at 6 p.m.

Orr said she is not giving up and will continue to pursue other options of holding SG accountable to public disclosure, including possibly re-filing the grievance with the proper names.

“I’m going to pursue all my options, because it isn’t as simple as just making the information available to the public,” Orr said. “It’s them who fight against fee increases, it’s them who spend $14 million of our money and they can’t even upload things on a website.”