SGA executives strive for change

Executives appoint three new positions, propose expanded powers

By joseph cotton, campus news editor
Photo courtesy of @SGAXavier via twitter
With high turnover rates, this year’s SGA executives are looking to change SGA’s structure in an effort to keep
senators engaged. The executives have added three new positions and are looking to make more changes.

The Student Government Association (SGA) executives have taken actions to implement constitutional changes, despite the amendments not passing by Senate vote for two years in a row.

SGA President Mickey Townsend, a junior Philosophy, Politics and the Public (PPP) major, has been a key figure in the process. She has proposed changes to the SGA Constitution during her lengthy tenure on SGA.

“I’ve been working on the Constitution changes for three years and it’s been shut down four times in those three years,” Townsend said. “That’s the thing I’m looking forward to the most (this year). I’m looking forward to adding any small pieces to the Constitution and just developing a new brand for SGA.”

The first step in implementing these changes was creating an executive board. To fill this board, the president and vice presidents established three new roles. These positions, while a part of the constitutional amendments proposed to the Senate last year, were appointed this winter break by the executives. This new board is composed of the Director of Communications, filled by junior communications studies major Myles Adams; the Director of Finance, filled by junior PPP and economics major Tom Grandon; and Chief Justice, filled by junior PPP major Andrew Geraghty.

The Director of Communications operates the SGA social media, along with creating and distributing the SGA Weekly that is sent out every Monday. The Director of Finance deals with the SGA budget and helps new senators request funds for their initiatives. The Chief Justice enforces the rules outlined in the Constitution, ensures they are followed on a meeting-by meeting basis and mediates impeachment proceedings that may arise.

“The reason we implemented these positions is so that we could show the Senate that we need these positions and that they do work,” Townsend said. “The problem was that last year a lot of the Senate didn’t know why we needed them and didn’t think students would be interested.”

SGA Vice President Marina Salazar also noted that the positions currently have no formal power. Though the executive board has no voting power, each of them are currently managing their sectors of SGA in and out of meetings.

“These positions are not official positions within SGA,” Salazar said. “We’re going to have the Senate vote on them again. The point was for them to see (the positions) in action to see that they are necessary.”

The executives stated that they had the blessing of their Advisor Leah Busam-Klenowski in the implementation of these new positions.

“(Our advisor) said that something similar had happened in the past and that, as long as we tell the Senators that we were passing these positions out, it would be okay,” SGA Vice President MaKayla Conners said. According to Senate Advisor Dustin Lewis, the precedent was established by former executives. Temporary positions that have been established include a student
rights representative, a student conduct liaison and a student director of diversity —all of which have since been absorbed into other offices on campus. However, these most recent appointments would be the first time the SGA has introduced multiple positions in one year.

Busam-Klenowski noted that the positions were created on a loose interpretation of Article II, Section 3a of the Constitution, which reads, “The Executive may appoint any temporary (ad-hoc) committees or commissions to investigate issues, propose courses of action, or execute policy as may be necessary. These appointments are not subject to prior Senate approval but must be reported to the Senate.”

This language is contradicted by Article III, Section 8, which reads: “The Senate will approve or not approve all student appointments and nominations proposed by the Association President.” Several senators noted that these positions were not approved by the senate body, but were instead just announced by the executives.

In choosing students for these roles, the executives said they performed a formal appointment process, complete with applications and interviews.

This differed slightly from Grandon’s interpretation of the process. After previously expressing interest to the executives in a senate position, Grandon noted the executives. later approached him about the positions. “They came to me with the list and said, ‘Any of these interest you?’ I told them the Director of Finance is up my alley, and I could actually make an impact and help out there,” Grandon said.

Former senator Ryan Machesky, who worked on the Constitution Ad-Hoc Committee last year, had mixed emotions about the creation of the new positions. “I was in favor of the Constitution changes… (but) frankly, it kind of pissed me off that they just went ahead with the new positions anyway,” he said.

“(SGA) wants to have this transparency with the student body, so they know who gets elected and how they get elected. If the new positions they have created are still not in the Constitution, we don’t know those things. It seems like they just don’t even care that a Constitution exists, like they just forget that it exists and kind of do their own thing,” he added.

“Mickey is the SGA president, who’s one of the people who worked on the Constitution, and yet she is the one who basically just violated the Constitution by adding these positions without actually adding them into the Constitution,” former senator Fernando Arguello, a supporter of the proposed amendments last year, stated. “What was the point in even trying to make a new Constitution if you’re going to create the positions anyway?”

In the eyes of another senator, the positions have demonstrated their merits. “I think they work very well. They take a lot of the load off of the president and the vice presidents because they are already working so much,” Senator Murphy Penwell said.

Former senator Kourtney Williams disagreed with this observation. “Some of the things they wanted to change or add felt like a replacement for some of the duties that the executive tickets are supposed to do,” Williams said. “I get that the executive ticket has a lot on their hands, but (the new positions) almost cleared them of any responsibility. Therefore, if they are just doing their own projects, they’re just a senator, and they’re no longer an executive member in my eyes.”

In addition to moving forward with these positions, the executives also presented two smaller constitutional changes at a meeting this Monday. The first proposition was to reduce the GPA requirements for senators. The second, a more contentious issue among the Senate, would allow the executives to introduce new legislation directly to the Senate.

As it stands, only senators can propose new business on which SGA can vote. When proposed, the amendment was met with some resistance from the Senate, according to Senator Evan Nash.

“It goes in the complete opposite of the changes some of us want to see,” Nash said. He noted that he also researched the constitutions of other universities’ student governments, including University of Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky University, searching for legislation similar to the proposed section.”

“None of them have something like this,” he said. “Executives are supposed to run the meeting and be the face of SGA. If they are able to propose business, then I can see… future executives using that in a way that they can get things that they want passed. I don’t think the executives this year would do that, but down the road, that is always a possibility,” Penwell said.

Some senators and students believe that these changes to the constitution are necessary for several reasons.

First, there is a perceived lack of engagement from the student body. Currently, a majority of the SGA senators have been appointed by the SGA executives. According to Lewis, only 11 students ran for the 20 Senate positions. The rest of the positions were then filled by the current SGA executives.

Since then, the two senators have resigned, meaning there have been 11 total appointees to the Senate by the executives.

Salazar noted that when filling these vacancies, not enough people applied for the positions, which forced the executives to reach out to their own contacts. “It’s not like we chose people we knew over someone else who applied. We just didn’t have enough people who applied. So we had to take who we could find, we had to fill the vacancies,” Salazar said.

According to Townsend, one change that can be made is reducing the number of senators in future years to 16, which she believes could address the lack of engagement in SGA. Secondly, several former senators shared that the SGA fostered a culture where important issues are discussed, but nothing substantial is achieved.

“(In meetings), we would be like, ‘Okay, let’s think about this, let’s think about what we want to do so we can be very productive and actually get things done in the next meeting.’ But then, when we would get to the next meeting, people would just be resistant to change, which resulted in us continually pushing back issues… People felt very opinionated but were unwilling to actually present anything substantial,” Arguello said of the Senate.

Former senator Patrick Finlay brought up an example from the last SGA administration, when the SGA talked to Lori Lambert, the director of Residence Life, regarding new solutions for student housing for transgender people. “I just raised my hand and asked Lori Lambert, ‘Have you ever once had a complaint about how the current housing system works for transgender students? She told us, ‘No, we’ve never had a complaint.’ And I said, ‘So why are we talking about this, then?
Let’s talk about relevant issues on our campus. Let’s get the Caf open later instead of worrying about something that’s just a popular social issue.”

This culture has led to a high turnover rate of senators. This year, only two senators from the previous term decided to run again for a Senate position. “I think that at the end of the day, a lot of people just decided that their time, their involvement, can be better spent in other groups,” Finlay said.

Williams echoed this sentiment. “I definitely think that we have some great potential, but it’s being simmered. That can be the fault of the senators themselves, but it’s also on the execs, who are supposed to help us see clearly how to finish in a move those initiatives forward,” Williams said.

As the semester goes on, the executives intend to introduce more changes to the constitution in smaller parts, as opposed to one large piece of legislation, a tactic which has failed two years in a row.

SGA meetings are open to the public and students are encouraged to attend. The constitutional amendment which expands executive powers will be on the docket next during the meeting next. Monday at 3 p.m. Subsequent changes to the Constitution, including legislation on the three new executive board positions, will be introduced to the Senate at a later date