November 16, 2007

Student Assembly Fully Funds Class Councils

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The Student Assembly yesterday voted to give the Class Councils $14.50 per student as part of the byline funding process after the Appropriations Committee recommended an allocation of $10.50.
“I was thrilled at the decision,” said Vince Hartman ’08, president of the 2008 Class Council. “I didn’t expect it to occur. … I was very appreciative of the people who recognized the importance of Class Council programming.”
Operating under an interpretation of the S.A. charter that has recently come under attack, the S.A. voted to disapprove the Appropriation Committee’s recommendation of $10.50 with 14 yes votes and 6 abstentions. They met the two-thirds vote requirement as indicated in the interpretation. S.A. President Elan Greenberg ’08 then requested new amounts from the Assembly. Suggestions ranged from $14.50 to $9, provided by Adam Gay ’08, vice president of finance, who also chairs the Appropriations Committee. The amount $14.50 received a 10-6 vote and met the majority vote requirement to change byline funding.
“We spent weeks putting together our budget, and we consider it to be the minimum we need to provide students with what they want — a good convocation speaker, senior week and great programs,” said Caroline Newton ’09, president of the 2009 Class Council.
There were approximately 50 to 80 students in the audience during the meeting, nearly half of which were there to support the class council.
In light of recent allegations aimed at the S.A. Executive Committee, Mark Coombs ’08, director of elections and former executive vice president, who is a Sun columnist, presented Resolution 12 at the start of the meeting, which was intended to overturn the Executive Committee’s interpretation of the byline funding process. The Sun reported yesterday that two alumni, Stephen Blake ’05 and Nick Linder ’05, former executive vice president and president of the S.A., respectively, claimed that a newly-issued interpretation of the S.A. Charter was incorrect and gave too much power to the Appropriations Committee.
After being informed of the results of yesterday’s meeting, Linder added, “Greenberg stuck with his rules and not the Charter. The reason we created Appendix A was to govern the fee-setting process. They are special rules protecting the most important sensitive subject that the S.A. deals with. When you choose to ignore Appendix A, the protections that safeguard the students and their money are ignored. … Appendix A is the Charter; ignoring it means ignoring the Charter.”
Coombs asked for a roll call vote after requesting that the resolution be moved to business of the day so the S.A. could discuss it. With a tied 11-11 vote on whether it should be discussed at the meeting, Greenberg voted “no.” As president, he only votes when there is a tie. Greenberg indicated that it would be discussed at a later time.
When asked about this result, Coombs said to The Sun, “President Greenberg and the Executive Committee made it obvious today that they want to do the right thing, but I think they all too often do the wrong things to get there. I have no doubt that they have good intentions, but what Cornell needs is good government. The process is as important as the results.”
At the start of the meeting, Greenberg presented a statement that addressed The Sun’s article on the challenges of the Executive Committee’s interpretation. It stated, “We cannot stress more strongly that the Appropriations Committee has not become more powerful than the [S.A.].”
The statement also conceded that the S.A. did not present a budget by the fifth scheduled meeting as the Charter stipulates and issued an apology. Several members of the S.A. disagreed with the content of the statement and requested the removal of their names from its release to the media.
Mazdak Asgary ’08, international representative, argued that there should be a debate about the Executive Committee’s interpretation of the Charter. He mentioned that, as last year’s parliamentarian, he was part of a charter review committee that recognized a discrepancy in the Charter: It takes only a majority vote to dissolve a committee as opposed to the two-thirds vote required to overturn a committee’s decision.
Greenberg was also a member of the committee and agreed that this discrepancy needed to be addressed. “There are inherent inconsistencies in the Charter but … it is incredibly time consuming to [have it approved].”
Asgary pointed out that the Executive Board’s interpretation rests solely on the two-thirds vote clause.
In defense of the interpretation, Greenberg said, “Appendix A is a point of contention. It has not been tested yet, so if there’s a discrepancy, we should follow the Charter.”
Linder, who co-wrote Appendix A with Blake in spring 2004, said that it was first used in fall of 2005. “Regardless of whether it’s new, it still needs to be followed,” he said. “He created this extra step to motion to disapprove. That’s not in Appendix A at all.”
During the meeting, Asgary also found it problematic that minutes from the Appropriations Committee were not released. The Sun requested minutes from Gay on Wednesday but did not receive them as of yesterday evening. Asgary pointed out that in Article 6 of the S.A. Charter, committees are required to make minutes available no later than seven working days after the meeting. When asked about the minutes, Gay indicated that the Appropriations Committee meetings were moved to executive session and were thus closed. Greenberg was also asked about the minutes and told the S.A. that they did not have enough money for a clerk to be present in Appropriations Committee meetings, but “notes were available.”
The S.A. and its committees are subject to a clause in New York State law called the “open meetings law,” which states, “a public body may conduct an executive session for the below enumerated purposes only, provided, however, that no action by formal vote shall be taken to appropriate public moneys.” This indicates that meetings dealing with finances cannot legally be discussed in closed session.
“That means there’s no record of what they’re doing. They should be accountable for their votes,” Asgary said. “That’s ridiculous.”