Editorial: SGA won't show us the money, again

by Editorial Board / Beacon Staff • March 22, 2012

At issue: SGA limbos under previous transparency failures. 

Our take: How low can they go?

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The minutes section of the Emerson Student Government Association website will tell you that 2012 doesn’t exist. In this post-apocalyptic Mayan universe, our leaders haven’t spent any of our money, suggested any changes to their governing document, or even abstained from deciding whether $12,865 of our student activities fee went to a publication that typically receives several thousand dollars less to print an issue—43.75 percent of our voting representatives did that, by the way. 

In total, $69,250.62 of the student activities fee—that we pay in tuition—is unaccounted for in the SGA public record. 

This is not the first instance of SGA officials dropping the ball on its most official digital conduit with students, shirking their irrefutable constitutional obligation. But current SGA President Tau Zaman has dropped the ball harder, faster, and with a louder thud than his predecessor, Jeffrey Rizzi. Under Zaman’s guidance, SGA completely halted the positive strides toward accountability Rizzi initiated when SGA began adhering to the constitution on the matter of updating its website. This crop of SGA leaders inherited a solved problem and immediately descended into old habits. 

Where the unevenness of Rizzi’s performance as president could be chalked up to his relative inexperience as a write-in candidate for office, Zaman is our most seasoned representative. The president may not be charged with posting these minutes by hand, but he sits at the head of an institution that is failing miserably at keeping us in the know. 

By now, the student body has learned not to wait by the phone for SGA to provide information to its constituents. But what does it say when the group who last week lobbied the Board of Trustees on our behalf for greater transparency fails time and time again to be transparent itself?

Rizzi’s administration heard student dissatisfaction with SGA’s accountability and worked to rectify it. With the newly proposed constitutional changes, Zaman’s administration is looking to put training wheels to the problem. Rather than doubling down and honoring its responsibility, this SGA is seeking to grant itself more time to post minutes, moving the goalposts closer. At the very least, Rizzi’s SGA did not bend the rules to accommodate this shortcoming—his SGA rose to the bylaws his constituents confirmed. 

SGA Chief Justice Adriana Guida points out that it wouldn’t make sense to post minutes that haven’t been approved. It’s clear that SGA officials will take an interest in the language of their constitution when it’s convenient, but Robert’s Rules are a sideshow to the big picture: months of transactions with student funds aren’t available to the student body. 

In finance terms, the first full quarter has no public paper trail—except in the pages of this newspaper.

Because posting minutes has proven a chronic problem for SGA, this editorial page will feature a weekly chart that follows whether our leaders have lived up to their constitutional requirement to tell students what goes on in sessions. Though perhaps lofty, we also suggest that they do it on time. 

Tweeting vague “#ideas” (“more board bucks, longer DH hours, 24-hour food stations...”) disembodied from actual plans and appeal results divorced from vote breakdowns is not adequate. It’s time for SGA to start acting like the student government association its constitution describes—or for a new crop of candidates to run on a platform of transparency and accountability. 

We would all like more Board Bucks, longer dining hall hours, and 24-hour food stations. But until those perennial suggestions become a reality, we’d like for SGA to tell us where the cost of a luxury sedan’s worth of our tuition dollars is going.