After three months and dozens of attempts by Defender and Echo reporters to review Executive Board finances, the Student Association still has not formally released its spending information despite a constitutional requirement to do so. However, editors have briefly seen the information while meeting with S.A. Vice President Liam Danaher on April 7, and with the Rev. Brian Cummings on April 19.
Danaher told a pair of Defender-Echo editors they would be able to see the files on Thursday, April 16. However, two appointments to view the records with him were canceled. Danaher had scheduled other meetings and later said that the key to the file cabinet containing the E-Board expenditures was missing. There has been no further word about when or if the information will be made public.
However, on Tuesday, April 28, all power will be transferred to the new administration under incoming S.A. President David Hiltz.
Questions arose this semester regarding the E-Board’s use of student funds to pay for dining hall meals and other food while implementing a verbal no-food policy with other clubs. In an interview Sunday evening, Cummings said students dining on S.A. funds has been a long-standing and accepted practice. Michael Samara, vice president of Student Affairs, explained that the practice was implemented at a time when seniors did not have the option of a 40-meal plan.
Seniors either had to purchase a full meal plan, or go without. Samara explained that the idea was that S.A. officials should be approachable in the dining hall and also accompany guest speakers and lecturers.
Club presidents say that during the allocation meetings for 2008-2009, they were instructed not to purchase food with club money unless it is for a campus wide event.
“The money I allocated for food for our weekend trip was removed from our proposed budget,” said Alex Miller, president of the Fly Fishing Club.
Ashleigh McCrory, president of the Drama Club, said it is frowned upon to purchase food just for club members, and that the club is encouraged to buy food through Sodexo. “It makes it hard for people with limited meal plans,” McCrory said.
However, Nick Bush, president of the Ski and Snowboard Club, wrote in an e-mail interview that purchasing food for club members is acceptable as long as an itemized receipt is provided.
The S.A. constitution allows for access to all club financial records, including those of the E-Board, whose budget is $15,000 plus another $15,000 in stipends.
It reads, “Records shall be open to the public consistent with the Freedom of Information Act of the United States Congress. Subsequently, individual S.A. members may examine such records within the physical confines of the S.A. office by requesting said files from the Secretary of Communications.”
All undergraduate degree students are considered S.A. members.
Suggesting a judicial board
Public records include petty cash slips, canceled checks, bank account records, computerized audits and any official comments of the secretary of finance or the executive officers.
After an Echo story calling attention to the E-Board’s spending on personal meals, S.A. officials sent out a mass e-mail stating that its financial records are open and welcomed questions and clarifications about their spending.
However, more than 30 attempts by Defender-Echo staffers to review this information have been mostly ignored, except for a few recent assurances from the S.A. vice president that the records would be open.
Now, Samara, Cummings and Grace Kelly, director of Student Activities and assistant dean of students, have become the media contacts for S.A. leaders, most of whom are no longer speaking with campus media. The administration is trying to be as thoughtful as possible during a time of transition of leadership, Samara said.
Gregory Cendana, vice president of the American Student Association, suggested the use of a judicial council when students are displeased with the decisions that the student government has made or feel they’re acting out of order.
“Some campuses have a judicial council that kind of serves as an outlying branch of the student government and are able to bring cases and at that point are able to hear both sides of the story if it becomes an actual case,” Cendana said.
It may be too late to create a similar model this academic year, but it is something that should be considered in the future, Cendana added.
Samara said he looks forward to better communication between the S.A. and campus media. “I’m hopeful that we can collectively learn from mistakes and move forward,” he said.