Opinion: Elected representatives taking advantage of students’ summertime absence

Cassidy Alexander

Numerous senators take time off over the summer, leaving many seats unfilled. Photo by Spinnaker Media
Numerous senators take time off over the summer, leaving many seats unfilled.
Photo by Spinnaker Media

Summers at UNF are quiet. The days are hot and long, and there are few students on campus. Normally, it’s nice. Unfortunately, it seems that Student Government members have been taking advantage of the semi-empty campus to spend large amounts of money in ways that fit their own agenda.

Just as there are few students on campus, there are fewer voting members of SG. Though the Senate currently has 28 out of 40 seats filled, there were only 11 voting members present on July 6.

That’s the day that nine of those 11 senators voted to spend $60,500 on lobbying efforts in Tallahassee. With the money, they will hire former SG President Matt Brockelman to lobby, or advocate on behalf of UNF students’ interests in Tallahassee, as well as on traveling and program funds for UNF students to go to the state capitol.

When something is backed by three former SG presidents, current-President (and former-Vice President) Hailey Guerra and Chief of Staff Jordan Wilson, it’s hard to ignore, even when there are a large number of senators present. However, just because it’s backed by several powerful players doesn’t mean it’s right. With only 11 voting members, a BAC committee that unanimously approves a request to spend $60,000 without asking a single question, and a bill added to the agenda at the last minute, something may be up in the Senate. And it’s simple to figure out what’s going on:

“[Gloster and Guerra] said that if you want to get something large money-wise to pass through the Senate, to do it during the summer, because that’s when it’s easiest,” Senator Austin Daniels, one of two opposing senators, said in his comments about the bill. “And that’s exactly what they’re doing here. They’re using every trick they know.”

Gloster rebutted with the comment that he knows students want SG to pay for this because they voted for the United Party, but that begs a few questions.

First, if Gloster was so sure students want to spend money on the effort, why was he trying to push it through under their noses in the middle of summer without letting senators look it over?

Second, if only 41.2 percent of voting students voted for the United Party, wouldn’t it be fair to assume that only 41.2 percent would certainly be in line with this initiative and this funding request? And even if we look only at senators rather than all students, at the end of the spring elections, there were 17 senators that were part of the United Party, and 17 part of the Red Party. Neither of those numbers represent a majority. 

According to the party lines, the Senate should be split on such an issue, rather than overwhelmingly in favor of spending the money, and the summer shouldn’t be so quiet. But due to the low number of senators present at the meetings, the initiative was passed with little fuss and the system was taken advantage of by our new student leaders. 

After that meeting, the decision to spend the $60,500 was overturned by the SG Judiciary because of a violation over who presented the bill. When it went back to Senate, 12 of 13 voting members decided to pass it again

Only Budget and Allocations Committee Chair Troy Bottom voted no, arguing that there was not enough representation to vote on the matter.

Senator Daniels, who originally voted against the bill, changed his mind the second time around.

“I still remain highly skeptical,” he said, but he claimed that the short notice of the bill was “actually a screw-up on the pro-tempore’s part for not getting it on the agenda sent out to us in emails.”

The $60,500 toward lobbying funds isn’t the only large amount of money senators have spent this summer.

On July 13three senators on the Budget and Allocations Committee approved a request from Osprey Productions to spend $120,000 on a Homecoming comedian. Those same senators also approved a special request of $28,770 in OPS wages for several positions within SG.

Effectively, senators voted to give $148,770 to their own staff and organization.

The Student Senate Seal Photo by Spinnaker Media
The Student Senate Seal
Photo by Spinnaker Media

 

In Senate meetings, there needs to be 50 percent plus one of the voting members present to establish quorum and conduct business according to the SG Senate Policies and Procedures. With senators on vacation or taking a leave of absence in the summer, there are less needed to establish a quorum over summer than in the fall or spring.

Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the quorum that our senators have set. When 40 senators make up only .2 percent of the student population on campus, and they were voted on by just 17 percent of students, our government is already barely representative of our actual student body. And yet, we allow the integrity of the system to be further violated by pretending that 11 senators is enough to decide how to spend thousands upon thousands of students’ money.

Rather than trying to repair a system that is barely functioning, our representatives and leaders are using its flaws to their advantage and doing whatever they please, despite students’ actual interests.

A lack of interest in SG affairs doesn’t mean that the few who remain focused on SG should be able to do whatever they want. SG members should be capable of behaving, even when no one is on campus to babysit them. No matter what the votes show, each and every student who pays fees to UNF is invested, at least financially, in the system. It’s time everyone starts remembering that. 

It’s hard to imagine this happening during the fall, with an almost-full Senate split almost-evenly between two parties, and a larger student body waiting to see what SG does. But when 11 senators or less are representing more than 16,000 people and spending more than $4 million in student fees, things can get out of hand. 

Summers are quiet at UNF, and apparently are an opportunity for agenda-pushing by a select few. It may not be right, but at least now we know exactly who we are dealing with: elected officials eager to push their own agendas and voices over the wants and needs of those they supposedly represent. We can expect the fall semester to be anything but quiet. 

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