Image courtesy of upeisu.ca
Image courtesy of upeisu.ca

By: Drew MacEachern

As was mentioned at the last council meeting, a special sitting of the UPEI Student Council was organized for Sunday, Sept. 20th to approve a referendum question, to be voted on by the entire student body, to replace the position of VP Communications with a Director of Communications. The council meeting was called to order at 6:02 pm and the agenda was approved. There were only two items on the agenda; the constitutional amendment discussion and a discussion for date for the Student Union’s Annual General Meeting.

President Dana Kenny began by explaining the history of the position and the rationale behind changing it. The position was created in 2010, after a hiatus of approximately 25 years, in order to improve communication between the SU executive and the student body and to handle the executive’s increased communications needs in the social media age. However, after discussions amongst themselves, as well as with the St. FX, Mount Allison, UNB, and Saint Thomas Student Unions,  former Student Union General Managers and former members of the UPEISU executive, the current executive decided to seek to eliminate the executive position and replace it with a Director of Communications through a referendum.

Kenny then presented the expected timeline for the process. On Sept. 13th, notice was given, as per the UPEISU Constitution, at least one week before Council’s vote, which took place at this meeting on the 20th. Any proposed referendum must be passed by a two-thirds majority of the present councillors, representing two-thirds of the entire council. Pending Council’s approval, from Sept. 22nd to Oct. 5th, the Student Union will be begin to advertise the upcoming referendum. Voting on the referendum will take place during general election on Oct. 6th and 7th. Kenny then recommended that the time period from October 8th to April 30th 2016 will see the transition of the VP Communications position into the non-executive position of Director of Communications. In order to ensure stability during the transition, Kenny suggested that current interim VP Communications Alex Heighington remain VP Communication during the transition period based on her experience. Kenny noted that it was at Council’s discretion whether to accept that. As per Councillor Pierce Smith’s suggestion at the last meeting, Kenny drafted a rationale to go ahead with the referendum question, explaining that

Kenny then presented a potential job description that he and Heighington drafted. Originally presented in November 2013 when Anastasia Smallwood was President, then revised in December 2014 under Lucas MacArthur, the was updated by Kenny and Heighington and finally brought to Council to be acted upon. Kenny explained that he thinks this is an opportune time to finally move forward the proposal after several years of instability with the position. The job description itself removed the executive duties and kept the duties for overseeing the promotions of UPEISU events, as well as overseeing technical and social media communications. However, one new description was added, namely to liase with the Wave’s Bar Manager and Mickey’s Place kiosk manager to help promote UPEISU businesses.

VP Heighington then spoke and urged the councillors that, since she could only remain for the next 10 minutes, to ask her any questions about the referendum. Councillor Jack Stultz then asked her opinion of the referendum. Heighington explained that she supported it and there was a lot of disconnect in the past between the position and the rest of the executive positions. Councillor Tayte Willows asked if the rationales of former VP Communications who in years past have quit or resigned, (two years ago we went through 4 VP Communications in one year) included the burden of executive duties as motivating reasons. Kenny deferred to Heighington. She said that yes, she thought it was. She also reitered that four voices are enough among the Executive positions and that executive duties take up a lot of time. Kenny then explained further that communications was a strange role in that, unlike other positions which cover very definite positions of direct interest to students, communications is rather broad and ill-defined. VP Academic and External John Rix explained that it normally takes 7-8 hours a week to take part in executive meetings, council meetings, and preparation for those meetings. That takes a lot of time out of the work that the executives could otherwise be doing, which could be removed with a non-executive Director of Communications.

Councillor Sarah Outram asked if the change meant that students who had issues with the Student Union’s communication activities would have to approach the Director personally instead of going through Council, like they would with an executive position. Kenny suggested that the Director of Communications should attend all council meetings to keep updated. Councillor Stultz then asked if the passage of the amendment would terminate the executive duties of the VP Communications immediately or if that would be part of the transition. Kenny explained that Heighington would take on the role until the end of the year, per Council’s approval. Upon clarification of his question by Stultz, Kenny explained that the executive duties would not be phased out until the transition to the Director of Communications position. The meeting then went into camera to discuss the VP Communications performance.

After coming out of camera, Council began clarifying the exact changes that would take place in the Constitution should the referendum pass. Councillor Willows also made an amendment to the referendum. It passed. Council then voted on whether to present the question as presented to the voting student public. It was approved unanimously.

Council then moved into discussion on the date and time for the Annual General Meeting. It is open to the entire membership where the Executive can present their work and initiatives to the general public, announcing the election results and consulting with the general student population. The general membership (all you non-council member students) can also present motions if approximately 175 people are in attendance, meeting quorum requirements. Kenny made a motion to hold it on Oct. 8th at 12 in the afternoon at MacMillan Hall in the Murphy Centre. Council then approved the meeting date. Council then discussed creating an agenda. The proposed agenda included the presentation of executive mandates, the presentation of election results and ‘new business’. It was also approved.

The regularly scheduled council meeting will be held next Sunday.