This is the question I asked myself as I watched a room of 30 people basically rubber stamp the financials of a student organization.
Each year the Union executives present audited financial statements to Council. Last year, Council spent more than an hour going through and discussing the financial statements. This year, while the VP Finance presented the audited financial statements (which cost students $11,000 to have completed), the majority of councillors began to look down at their computers and phones, almost entirely uninterested. I got the impression that most of the room did not even take the time to read the statements. So, what happened when the VP Finance, after only a brief explanation of the information in the report asked: “Okay, any questions about anything in the report?”
Everyone looked at the tables, laptops, computers or in any other direction (almost like they were in trouble), and with that, they voted to accept the audited financials.
Last year we learned about a secret bank account at a national student organization, so perhaps that’s why this alarms me so much? Guarding student money should take longer than a couple of minutes to discuss. If there were worrisome trends or practices highlighted by the auditors Council would receive the news SU executives wanted them to hear.
As I observed the room more, I noticed that people were spending more time on Facebook and their phones, than paying attention to the presentations and votes. Some people never said a word during the entire three-and-a-half-hour meeting. How can these students lead the organization if they aren’t paying attention? If these people are so uninterested in the business of the Student Union then why did they run for Council? Was it to pad their resumes? Are they genuinely leading the direction of the union and holding the executives accountable?
Council’s behavior made me worried about how the union is managing its largest single capital project in a decade, the Student Centre Refresh, a significant component of which is renovating The Wave. Are you familiar with the details? It appears the team leading the project might not be, in some cases disagreeing on the plan’s details during their presentation.
As the New Initiatives and Future Directions Committee presented on the project, now with an increased budget of $410,000, it was clear that everyone was not on the same page.
When it came down to questions for President Ahmed (leader on the project), he deflected even the simplest questions to the other NIFD committee members. I thought “Does the President not know what is going on?” A councillor asked if they had picked a contractor for the project, and before the question could be answered, a back and forth occurred between the committee members and the President. Someone who is not a member of the NIFD committee had to explain to the President that the answer was “no” because the most recent estimates and contracts had expired when the union postponed the project this past summer. The President eventually conceded and said, “Well we will obviously pick the lowest bid.”
A short point of debate on the Refresh centered around the over 100 comments in the student survey, which NIFD had directed the chair of Council Zak Jarvis not to provide to anyone. For an organization wanting to improve transparency, it seemed weird that Jarvis was directed not to share information with the councilors.
Moving to the next agenda item the council began a discussion on increasing compensation for cell phone bills for the executive and several other union staff. If approved, ten staff would get $10 more of their cell phone bill paid per month (up to 50% or $60.) Just as the debate was beginning, President Ahmed ‘called the question’ which required the discussion to end, and the motion to be voted on. They did this because it was approaching 9 pm, and another motion was needed to extend the meeting. Jarvis, however, had put forward the option to rescind the current motion, extend the meeting and then move back to the debate. Still, the president called the question, and Council allowed the vote to occur.
Moments after yet another rubber stamp, President Ahmed proclaimed “Oh and I, of course, do not benefit from this!” A strange statement considering it benefits all executive members. Regardless of whether their bill is high enough to benefit, the President should not be limiting debates on topics that directly affect them. But the larger question remains: Why is Council allowing such behaviour from the executive? Many members of council appear unaware of the rules governing the meetings, thus enabling the executive to steer the meeting in their favor.
Next on the agenda was “new business,” which introduced a couple of quick topics to be discussed. The Board of Governors Representative Michael Ferguson mentioned that Council has yet to post any meeting minutes for students to read since January of 2017. In response, Chair Zak Jarvis stated it was the responsibility of the Deputy Chair (who has now resigned) and that the responsibility falls on the SU Director of Communications to post the minutes online. Council accepted Jarvis’ answer and moved on without clarifying if the issue would be corrected. This seemed like a simple deflection of the blame and did not answer Ferguson’s question as to if and when students will be able to access meeting minutes online soon.
Deflecting blame appears to be the norm at Council meetings.
Overall, I am left concerned about how the 2017-2018 Council is operating. The councilors appear more interested in Snapchat and Facebook than participating in the Council meeting. Do they know they are the leaders of the organization? These are the people we elected to hold the executive accountable to the student body.
Have we elected 30 people only to have a tyranny of the executive? A group which received low grades on their report cards from The Cadre, and from media reports borderline bullied a holland college student. They even called him fake news, and said they would no longer do media interviews with Holland College. What happens if The Cadre continues to shed light on Union issues? Will they get a ban? Of course, they retracted the ban against Holland College interviews, but why was that even suggested in the first place? It appears that the executive wants a tyranny, all the power, and is prepared to direct people not to give information to Council, and Council seems more than happy to oblige!
By: Justin Clory
Photo: UPEI Galleries