Bad day to be a member of the St. Michael's Student Association E-board yesterday. The Defender/Echo published a pair of stories that did not reflect so well on the S.A. E-board: one on how a recent vote on a constitutional amendment proved controversial and may be void, and another revealing that the S.A. President and Finance Secretary have spent student money on personal food purchases.
Transparency has been raised as an issue this semester, largely due to the efforts of S.A. senator Josh Hoxie, the senator who got access to the E-board's budget and exposed the wings/pizza story. The biggest issue has been the fact that an up-do-date copy of the S.A. constitution is impossible to find — hard copies are tough to come by, and only an outdated version exists on the S.A. Web site.
Similarly, the contents of the E-board's budget have been a mystery until now. Student clubs, funded by the student activities fee that's overseen by the S.A., have the S.A. keeping tabs on their budget all year, and the finance secretary has to sign off on all purchases. Thus it's been something of a double standard that the S.A. E-board has had the ability to spend their money in secret, without oversight. Kudos to Hoxie, the other S.A. members who've been pushing for transparency, and the reporters who followed the story.
Last night there was an open forum for the candidates for Student Association positions for next year. About 150 students showed up, and many posed pointed questions to the candidates about budget and procedural transparency, as well as issues of sustainability and social justice. For example, the (unopposed) Class of 2010 VP candidate was asked, after he made a speech detailing all the sweet senior socials we'll have, if he had any plans for the class to make a wider impact in the community instead of just social events. Zing. Perhaps the Barack Obama era really has inspired a new level of political involvement by our generation, even at the college election level.
(Full disclosure note: I work on the staff of The Defender/Echo. I'm the editor of The Naked Opinion though, so I wasn't privy to the details of this story until I was putting it on the Web site just before publishing. I've got my own bone to pick with the school regarding the selection of Asher Roth as our spring concert opening act, which I discussed here, but that's a story for another time...)
UPDATE: As expected, the plot thickens. S.A. president Steve O'Neil, and finance secretary Jon Kaptcianos sent a campus-wide email today, rebutting the claims made against them. They say that the nearly $2,000 was spent on buying E-board members meals in the campus dining hall, so that they could "increase the visibility" of the E-board after their meal plan of 40 meals ran out. $900 was spent on food for finals-week study spaces.
They do admit to some personal meals taken, though. $70 was spent on Wings over Burlington after an S.A. meeting one unspecified night (no doubt that anyone who's ever been to one of those dreary borefests wishes they could have wings on someone else's tab as a reward for sitting through it). About $70 more was spent on pizza for three E-board members on the day in which they were having budget meetings with clubs. Makes sense that they would want some sustenance for dealing with budgets for an entire day — but clubs have been forbidden from using their funds to buy food this entire year, unless the food was for an event open to the entire campus. In this sense, there's clearly a double standard.
Most interesting is that the email claims that the invoices for all of these purchases "are available to anyone who would like to see them." Based on discussions that occurred in public at the candidates' open forum last night, amongst other evidence, this is not the case. I vividly remember last night that a Class of 2011 presidential candidate said he attempted to get access to the budget "several" times and was never successful. Additionally, the article on the food-spending controversy says, "Defender and Echo editors have made
numerous requests to review S.A. club expense reports, as provided for
in the S.A Constitution. Each request has been denied."
Maybe those invoices are available to everyone NOW, but this transparency has not been available until this controversy blew up.