Senate suspicions aroused by student organization offering “premium memberships”

Alan Vargas

Members of the UNF Senate had a lengthy debate about a travel funding request for the Financial Planning Association during the Senate meeting held on Friday, Sept. 21. The debate was over the club’s premium membership.

Part of the Senate’s responsibility is to allocate the student-paid Service and Activity fee. The S&A fee is used for various projects, such as the current administration’s seating and shade initiative and programs like Osprey Productions and the Lend-a-Wing Pantry. The S&A fee is also disbursed to student organizations to help with travel costs for conferences and networking events.

To receive travel funding from the S&A Fee, a group must be an “Open RSO,” which means it must be registered with Club Alliance and be open to all UNF students. A group can also be a “Closed RSO,” which is a club that has dues, qualifications or anything that would give preferential treatment to any member over another.

The Financial Planning Association recently came before the Budget and Allocation Committee to request $2,000 for a national conference in Chicago. According to Senator Anthony Hall, Senate President Thomas Pluchon and B&A Chairman Camden Dean, during the travel request presentation, the president of the FPA stated that the association had a “premium membership” option. This option gives preferential treatment to members who can pay for the premium membership. However, after being made aware that this premium membership option would cause the association to be a Closed RSO, the president redacted his previous statement and stated that the association would not use this premium membership model.

The members of the B&A Committee approved the request and it was forwarded to Student Body President Jenna DuPilka’s desk. After consulting with the B&A Chairman and  Treasurer Julia McComb, DuPilka decided to veto the travel request based on the concern that the FPA was actually a Closed RSO due to the statements from the FPA President. The FPA was notified of the veto but was unable to send a representative to the Senate meeting.

The 21 Senators had a deep and robust discussion around the situation and asked a number of questions to Club Alliance Assistant Director Luis Tejeda, Dean, DuPilka and McComb in search of the information that was available to them. During the discussion, Hall stated that he “felt uncomfortable during the B&A meeting.”

Pluchon deferred his chair to Senate President Pro-Tempore Sofia Vargas so he could participate in the debate.

“The way that the RSO presenter made his case and then walked back a lot of his statements made it all very uncertain,” Pluchon said.

At this point in the meeting, many senators weren’t sure how to view the situation. Some senators voiced their concern about denying a travel request because of unproven suspicion while other senators felt that it’s improper to use student fees for a trip that isn’t open to all students.

Hall asked if the FPA had done any fundraising for the trip, which is required before applying for funds. Dean read from the travel request application which asks about any fundraising done prior to seeking funds from SG. FPA answered the question by stating that the income from premium memberships was used as fundraising for the trip.

“In light of the fact that their constitution says nothing about premium memberships but they also state in their travel request that they use premium memberships to fundraise, I must vote to keep the veto,” Government Oversight Chairman Patrick Healy said after hearing the statement.

The veto was upheld 18-3.

Legislation, Projects, and Appointments

Senate also voted to approve the Encumbrance Rollover Act, which is an annual piece of legislation that pays for expenditures from the previous fiscal year. Expenses must be paid for in the year that they are incurred but because some of the goods and services that were ordered last fiscal year are received until this fiscal year, SG must pass a bill to allow for the payment of these expenses from the 2018-2019 budget.

Senate also heard a number of legislative reports and announcements. Elections Commission Lawrence Dutton reported that he and Attorney General Cody Choi had been working with the Duval County Supervisor of Elections to hold a voter registration drive on campus. The Supervisor of Elections will have an early voting site at the Herbert University Center. Early voting will open on Oct. 22 and end Nov. 4. The site will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Club Alliance Assistant Director Tejeda announced that there were more than 200 club applications submitted and the Boathouse will be offering 10 percent off to groups of more than 4 with a club card.

Lend-a-Wing Director Alistair Young stated that the food pantry would be partnering with Starbucks, which would be giving away free coffees and teas in exchange for donated food items. There will also be a food drive at the Thomas G. Carpenter Library, which will be holding a raffle giving away two flat screen TVs and a weekend getaway. Students can enter the drawing by donating a food item during the food drive.  

Chief of Staff John Alozska shared that 20 new umbrellas will be installed around campus including near the Green and Peace Plaza. He also stated that the budgetary legislation to purchase laptop chargers to rent at the library was submitted.

Student Advocate Madison Brantley shared that her office had partnered with the UNF Women’s Center to purchase 2500 “Drink Smart Cards.” The cards are about the size of a credit card and can test for the two most widely used date rape drugs: GHB and Ketamine. Once received, the cards will be given out around campus.

DuPilka stressed the importance of the upcoming Alcohol Policy Town Hall event. In fact, she said that she will be meeting with UNF President David Szymanski immediately after the Town Hall and that the multiple members of the UNF Board of Trustees had expressed interest on the issue. She also reported on the “free hygiene products” initiative, which will convert the existing hygiene product vending machines in the library and the Student Wellness Center. The machines will be free once they’re converted.

Finally, Senate heard from three students seeking legislative appointment. Markos Kampouroglou and Joy Ayano each spoke to the body about initiatives they would each pursue, strengths, weaknesses and examples of their ability to remain unbiased. Both students passed confirmation. Sitting Senator Natalie Costello was nominated as Parliamentarian after a recent resignation. Costello was also confirmed.

For more information or news tips, or if you see an error in this story or have any compliments or concerns, contact [email protected].