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June 6, 2016

Walk-out Blocks Vote on SG Pay

Two College Council (CC) representatives walked out of a meeting on an amended proposal to pay Student Government (SG)’s Executive Committee this morning, denying the General Assembly (GA) quorum and preventing a vote.

The meeting, called by petition at 9 a.m. on Monday of finals week to consider the SG Leadership Awards, began with a razor-thin quorum: 18 of 34 voting representatives, exactly the number SG Assembly’s bylaws requires to conduct business. After a motion was made to vote on the amendment, Class of 2016 representative Mike Viola made a quorum call, a parliamentary motion to check that enough representatives are present. Before the call was conducted, Viola left the room, destroying GA’s quorum and preventing the vote from going forward. Class of 2018 representative Calvin Cottrell, who along with Viola opposed the proposal, left soon afterward.

The meeting was called as an extraordinary session. GA’s bylaws allow representatives to call an extraordinary session with the support of five CC representatives and five Graduate Council (GC) members. Class of 2017 representative Stephanie Greene, who put together the new proposal, presented a petition to call the meeting Thursday of last week.

SG’s Executive Committee, which could be paid under the proposal, consists of the SG president, vice presidents, GC and CC chairs, and liaisons. The amended proposal made the program opt-in and required statements of need and work reports from Executive Committee members participating in the program. It also asked the Committee on Recognized Student Organizations (CORSO) to open the Student Leadership Recognition Award (SLRA), which pays some RSO leaders but previously barred SG members from receiving funding, to SG reps. 2016–17 would have been a pilot year for the program, which would be reevaluated at the end of the year.

The previous proposal failed in a 16–12 vote with five members abstaining at GA’s last regular meeting on May 23. The money that Executive Slate had suggested be used to fund the program was then diverted to the SLRA. The new proposal would have been funded with money diverted from SG’s administrative fund and leftover funds from previous years.

Monday’s meeting began with a presentation by Greene. Greene said the new proposal addressed some of the concerns expressed at the May 23 meeting while still allowing low-income students to participate in Student Government. She noted that the ban on SG representatives receiving SLRA funding had prevented her from applying for funding, despite the significant time she spent working as the head of the Organization of Black Students.

During the debate that followed, Cottrell and Viola voiced objections both to the content of the amended proposal and the propriety of holding the meeting when many representatives could not attend.

Viola said that the new proposal did not address the concerns raised at the May 23 meeting, and that SG leadership had all run for their positions without expecting to be paid. Viola suggested that Executive Committee could be paid like RSO leaders through the SLRA system, which funds students competitively at a lower level than the SG Leadership Award program would have.

Cottrell pointed out that several GC representatives whose school years had ended were unable to attend the meeting, and that several CC members were also not in attendance. He also suggested that the timing of the meeting excluded other members of campus.

“I think lots of us felt that this meeting, whether it was the time or the fact that certain members couldn’t be involved, was inappropriate. But we couldn’t have known that, because there wasn’t broad discussion,” Cottrell said.

Third-year and Vice President for Student Affairs Kenzo Esquivel said that the timing of the meeting was not ideal, but pointed out that the bylaws required the meeting to be scheduled on the receipt of a petition. He also said that Greene, who put forward the amended proposal, would not be on SG next quarter, which might further complicate the process.

Elliott Balch, a GC co-chair from the Harris School, motioned for a vote on the proposal, saying he also did not like the process but thought the issue was important and ought to move forward. Viola immediately called for quorum. By the time the quorum call was made, Viola had left the room. With his departure, the quorum call found 17 people in the room, one too few to proceed on the vote.

GA briefly waited for the expected arrival of another member, which would restore quorum. Cottrell said he had to go and left soon afterward. About five minutes after Viola’s quorum call, SG leadership gave up on reaching quorum.

SG President and fourth-year Tyler Kissinger said that SG leadership had dedicated significant time to setting up the meeting. “Unfortunately, two representatives chose that it’s better to waste all of the time of everyone who came…. I’m sad that that was their decision,” Kissinger said.

“I really do firmly hope that this is an issue that gets acted upon soon. It has been a major determinant of my experience here, and I really think that if this institution is serious about making these institutions accessible to all students, and if we want people to be putting in the work for them, it's the right move forward. But, as it stands, we don’t have quorum,” Kissinger said at the close of the meeting.

Class of 2018 representative Cosmo Albrecht asked SG leadership about the possibility of calling another meeting or voting on the issue remotely. Esquivel said that a meeting would probably not be possible during finals week, and that a remote vote would be unprecedented for GA. SG’s inability to vote means that even if the program is approved later, it cannot begin fall quarter.

In an e-mail to The Maroon, Cottrell wrote that he and several other SG representatives, some of whom supported the underlying proposal, felt that the timing of the meeting, though allowable under the bylaws, was unfair. For that reason, he said, several representatives did not attend the meeting, “knowing that I would share their objections and then deny quorum.”

“I believe Executive Slate purposefully brought this up at the end of the year to avoid student input and to limit pushback from students. I am happy that this will give students more time to learn about the proposal, talk to their SG representatives, and voice their opinions next year,” Cottrell said.

"I came to discuss the proposal; I did not come there to vote on a measure in an ‘emergency meeting’ that managed to exclude as many dissenting voices as possible," Viola wrote in an e-mail.

“The one thing I would be clear about is that they walked out because they knew the vote was not going to go the way they wanted,” Kissinger said after the meeting.

“Which was just wholly disrespectful. And you can quote me on that. It was incredibly disrespectful, to leave as opposed to just vote,” Greene chimed in. Greene said she also suspected that the vote would have passed had it gone forward.

Greene, Cottrell, and Viola will not be SG representatives next year. Greene said she plans to work with her CC representatives to push the issue.

Second-year Eric Holmberg, CC chair and SG president-elect, said he was not involved in creating the proposal and had planned to abstain. Holmberg said pay for members of SG Executive Committee would not be on his policy agenda next year.

Quorum busting is a parliamentary tactic sometimes used by minorities to prevent majorities from moving forward. The maneuver has long precedent—Abraham Lincoln once tried and failed to bust a quorum in the Illinois legislature by jumping out a window—but it prompts objections from people who say it limits the democratic process.

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