For USF students, learning the details of Student Government (SG) Senate meetings and activities could take an act of Congress.
The latest Senate minutes entry on the SG website — a full written record of a Senate meeting — were posted more than a year ago, on Sept. 9, 2014.
Since that time, the Senate has done a few things of which students may be interested in being made aware. Among these were the allocation of the Activity and Service Fees — a sum of about $14.6 million last year — and a discussion on passing a resolution for concealed carry on campus.
SG Senate President Kristen Truong said minutes have not been updated because the entire SG website is undergoing a migration from an older website platform to the current USF Content Management System (CMS) platform.
“We’re in that transition period right now, and so we’re hoping with the new CMS website we’ll have, we’ll be able to put things up more efficiently and more effectively,” Truong said.
SG Director of Communications and Marketing Juan Zapata said uploading recent records of Senate meetings would slow down the migration process because it would force them to resend information to Renee Hunt from University Communications and Marketing (UCM) and USF IT employees who are working with SG to migrate the site.
“If we keep updating the website with large PDF documents, it will slow down progress because we have to go back to the document we sent originally, and (USF IT) will have to move backwards to update the website on CMS,” Zapata said.
There is also the concern that Senate is operating in violation of Florida’s Sunshine Law and SG statutes both stating the public has the right to inspect SG’s meeting minutes.
Regarding the violation of SG’s statutes, SG Attorney General Richard LaMura said the current statutes demanding minutes be written and published in a maximum of 15 business days are unreasonable and don’t give student transcribers enough time to type up meetings.
“Student Government isn’t always giving No. 1 priority to these students who need to get schoolwork done,” LaMura said. “I wouldn’t say that they’re in non-compliance with (the statutes), I would just say we’re bound by a broken process that needs to be fixed.”
He said SG plans for these statutes to be updated to give student transcribers more time to write up meetings, as SG’s transcribers are currently backed up writing up minutes from February of last year.
“We also run into the issue where the (government) body that the minutes are being taken of are no longer here and have graduated,” LaMura said. “The only way to ensure the accuracy of the minutes and make sure they are compliant to (Florida law) is to have more time allotted.”
Regarding the Florida Sunshine law, Truong said this includes all meetings since the September 2014 minute listing and students can request these at any time through an email to Truong or public records request through SG.
“Everything that we have — any documents or audio recordings — are open for public records,” she said. “If you email me, ‘Can I have the meeting agenda for tonight’s meeting?’ I would send it to you.”
Zapata said SG stores all the agendas, minutes and other meeting records on SG’s network storage and USF Scholar Commons.
“For minutes that have to be updated every week, we’re keeping track of them on Scholar Commons and on our (network hard drives),” Zapata said. “As soon as we’re given access to the new website, it’s just adding a link to it and all the documents will be there.”
The most recent minutes entry on USF Scholar Commons is from April 8, 2015. Two earlier entries from spring 2015 and five from fall 2014 exist, but there are no other entries listed at the time of publication.
This is also not the first time the transparency or legality of the Senate’s activity has been called into question.
In October 2014, former USF student Katharine Orr filed a grievance against former SG executive, legislative and judicial branch leaders, asking SG to be more transparent in how it communicates with students, and to make SG decisions and activities accessible to students.
A subsequent investigation by the Senate Committee for Judiciary and Ethics in November 2014 found all three branch heads — former Student Body President Jean Cocco, former Senate President Andy Rodriguez and former Chief Justice Sammy Hamed— not in violation of any Student Body Constitution statutes. The committee recommended SG upload audio recordings for missing minutes and regularly update calendars.
Zapata estimated the new SG website and minutes will hopefully be available before the end of the fall semester but said it could happen sooner or later, depending on how the process goes.
“Once we do our part, it’s on USF IT to make it happen,” he said.
Hunt said the process for publishing the new site consists of a number of checks to make sure site content is correctly organized and structured for CMS. She said a completion date before the end of the fall semester is ‘aggressive, but doable’ and UCM publishes new university websites twice in December on scheduled dates, not when the website is finished.
“(SG) has their work cut out for them to get that content ready,” Hunt said. “I would love to say it’s going to be up this semester, but I think that’s going to be a pretty big challenge.”
Truong said the Senate recently finishing hiring four new transcribers since last summer when they previously had one or none, and LaMura said SG will soon hire an executive clerk who will type minutes and keep track of Senate minutes on SG’s website.
“Getting these minutes out needs to be a top priority of the Student Government,” LaMura said.