Polls open; 11 positions and constitutional amendment up for vote

by Xakota Espinoza / Beacon Staff and Heidi Moeller / Beacon Staff • December 5, 2011

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Tau Zaman, SGA Vice President and Jeffrey Rizzi, SGA President
Tau Zaman, SGA Vice President and Jeffrey Rizzi, SGA President

When polls open tonight at midnight, students will vote to fill 11 Student Government Association positions and choose whether to ratify proposed changes to the constitution that alter roughly 40 percent of the text. 

Nine of the hopefuls for the open council positions are running unopposed, while the Class of 2015 presidential and senatorial races drew three candidates each. The constitutional amendments, unanimously approved by the SGA at the Nov. 29 joint session meeting, will install the chief justice and secretary in the executive board, alter the roles of commissioners, change the SGA attendance policy, and revoke a two decades old clause guaranteeing funding to the campus newspaper. 

As part of the 40 percent textual difference in the constitution, commissioner duties and responsibility descriptions were given more precise language, clarifying exactly what each position entails, according to Vice President Tau Zaman.

The 40 percent difference was determined by an algorithm that compared the two sources of text and calculated what the two texts have in common. 

The attendance policy was also given more clarity in the amendments, now stating that “attendance is required for all elected officers, commissioners, the secretary, and the chief justice,” and additional attendance policies will be outlined in the by-laws for each governing body. 

The amendment further calls for the role of the Chief Justice to be added to the Executive Board. It state that in the case both positions are vacant “the president assumes the responsibility of the chief justice. In the case that any student feels the president can not be impartial in the matter they may request for the associate dean of students to render a ruling.”

The SGA’s Chief Justice Adriana Guida said the constitutional review board, composed of Natalie Morgan, Cami Bravo, Mari Watson, and Lindsey Racz, who were all members of the SGA at the time the board was created, began reading over the constitution last year and presented proposed amendments to the joint session last spring. 

The proposal to nix the newspaper’s guaranteed funding—a clause inserted into the constitution to resolve volatile tensions between The Berkeley Beacon and the government at the time—was tabled after fierce debate between SGA officials and a protest by the weekly’s staff in an open discussion last semester. The newspaper receives a nonnegotiable eight percent of the student activities fee.

According to Treasurer Tanya Flink, the automatic eight percent allocation grants the Beacon $38,400 for the 2011-2012 school year. 

Flink declined to disclose the total amount of funding within the SGA pool, but a calculation of the total estimates the number to be roughly $480,000. 

“To my knowledge, no organization that has appealed to SGA for additional funding has been rejected due to a lack of funds in the pool account,” said the sophomore political communication major. 

The eight percent clause in Article IV Section three of the constitution currently states that “FAB [Financial Advisory Board] shall allocate eight percent (8%) of the student activities fees collected to the student newspaper, to be dispersed at the beginning of the fall semester.”

The other amendments were approved by last year’s joint session and appeared on the ballot last spring, but did not pass because not enough students voted.

For the amendments to pass, 10 percent of the student population must vote, and at least 51 percent of voters must approve, according to the constitution. 

“For this go around, all of the changes that we are proposing are pretty much the same, with the obvious exception of the portion about the eight percent allocation, which we opted to leave out last year because we felt we hadn’t spent enough time considering what change we could make there,” said Guida, a senior political communication major in an email to the Beacon. 

The constitutional amendments will be presented as a whole on the ballot, allowing students to vote to fully approve or reject of the revised document. 

Among the changes is a new description of secretary and chief justice responsibilities. Stated in Article IV Section One of the constitution, the secretary “shall have a vote in Executive Board meetings,” a privilege they are not currently granted, and as a result will become an elected position. 

In addition, duties of the executive board members, vice treasurer, all commissioners, senate positions, and the financial advisory board were altered. It is also now stated that to maintain membership of the SGA, a student must hold a 2.7 GPA, rather than a 2.5. 

Freshman Darien Carpenter said he disagrees with the proposed GPA requirement. 

“You shouldn’t be chosen by how smart you are,” said the visual and media arts major. “A person can be a great leader without outstanding grades in classes.”

Zaman, who will become president next semester when President Jeffrey Rizzi steps down, said that the amendments will hold SGA members more accountable for their positions. 

While there has been little public discussion about most amendments, vociferous arguments erupted on social networking websites Saturday when members of the Beacon’s editorial board and SGA officials began debating the ethics of ceding control over the newspaper’s funding to the government it reports on.

Michael Perotto, a junior marketing communication major, said he is bothered by the arguments that have risen through Facebook, and is disappointed in his peers. 

“It’s just frustrating, it makes me not want to even listen to them,” Perotto said. “You talk to someone face to face, in front of a crowd, not spatting on a computer. We’re all supposed to be colleagues.”

SGA President Jeffrey Rizzi said that he will be using public forums to promote the vote, as opposed to what to vote on, as some of his colleagues have done. 

“I am endorsing peoples’ right to vote,” said the senior performing arts major. “I’m not pushing for any particular issue, I’m not going to put words into any one’s mouth.”