SGA faces off over its constitution

by Beacon Staff • March 25, 2009

Disputes over the Student Government Association president's powers has gummed the machinations of Emerson's student government and revealed a political schism between the the executive branch and the student senate. The stand-off will likely come to a head during SGA elections early next month.

In February, Vice President Maude Okrah canceled official Senate meetings until further notice, she said, after the weekly sessions veered too far from student-centric initiatives and into debates over constitutional politics.

"I thought what was occurring was hindering their individual progress to represent their constituents, because that [discussion of executive power] became the overall focus," she said. "We had a list of initiatives, that I felt were important to work on, and the majority of the senate members felt was important to work on, but it seemed to be kind of going back [...] to the rules and responsibilities [of the president]."

No senator had introduced legislation during the 2008-2009 school year, said Scott Fisher, SGA executive vice president.

Performing Arts Senator Nick Vargas, who announced yesterday that he will run against Fisher for SGA president, has been convening informal meetings since Okrah cancelled formal ones.

"I think people were just confused about whether or not this was allowed," said Vargas, the Senate's vice president. "For the most part people wanted to still meet. Also, being vice president of Senate, I felt a duty to hold meetings."

According to the SGA constitution, the Okrah may convene Senate meetings when she deems necessary. Although Okrah said she and SGA Advisor Sharon Duffy have discussed a date to re-commence the meetings with, Okrah declined to say when.

Executive power is up for debate again this month after Fisher's recent attempt to add two student commissioner positions-devoted to public safety and college affordability-aroused objections during a meeting of the joint session on Tuesday, forcing a ruling by the SGA Chief Justice on the measure's constitutionality. Chief Justice Jeff Foster eventually deemed Fisher's effort unconstitutional because the proposed commissioners did not represent specific constituencies, but rather the whole student body.

According to Article IV, section one, under the "Powers and Responsibilities" clause, the commissioners council "shall act as a chief liason between specific student populations and the SGA."

"It's not constitutional to appoint a commissioner for the whole student body," Foster said at the meeting, and later added, "I'm right now saying that it's unconstitutional to approve this commissioner position. It's not an opinion. It's unconstitutional."

After Foster's ruling on the motion was submitted to a vote, Fisher's proposal failed.

The following week, Fisher presented a new draft of the Health and Safety Commissioner position, as well as a College Affordability Commissioner as a proposed amendment to the constitution-and a petition with the signatures of more than 400 students, or 12.5 percent of the total Emerson enrollment. According to the SGA's constitution, 10 percent of the current semester's enrollment is needed to propose an amendment. This year's enrollment is approximately 3,200, according to the college's Web site.

Foster then ruled Fisher's proposal was in fact an initiative, rather than an amendment to the constitution. After the meeting was closed, Foster ruled that the measure still would not be constitutional, and thus will not be voted on either by the SGA or the student body, effectively killing it.

"It's just not responsible for SGA to pass legislation that's not in line with our overall constitution," Foster said in an interview.

After reviewing the SGA constitution, Fisher said he believed the commissioner's council is required to liaise between specific student populations, but that does not require each commissioner to represent a particular constituency.

"I think if you look in [the constitution,] what should happen is clear," he said.

Several members of the Senate expressed discomfort about approving new positions while they claimed their own specific roles were in question.

Alli Bizon, Class of 2009 senator, said she did not approve of the proposed new positions, and that an ongoing Senate review of the constitution would be helpful in working to better define the roles of the senators and other SGA members.

"Personally, I would like to see us define those roles, before we create new ones," Bizon said.

Fisher stressed his belief that the SGA should be addressing the two issues, either through the creation of designated commissioners or SGA committees.

"Jeff's decision was that he has the right to stop the students from voting, if he deems it unconstitutional," he said. "I want to make sure this issue is addressed in one of those two fashions."