SA impeachment hearing looms amid student apathy

GW students are sometimes apathetic to the Student Association and its whims, but many will have to take interest when the SA Senate meets to decide the fate of impeached President Phil Meisner Tuesday night.

In fact, out of about 17,025 full- and part-time students, only 2,090 students voted in the 1999 election that sent Meisner to a run-off with opponent Alexis Rice. Only 1,468 students returned to the polls to elect Meisner a few weeks later.

Despite student indifference, the SA president still maintains responsibilities that affect many aspects of student life. According to the SA Web site, the executive branch is responsible for administration of organization, implementing policy, promoting student activities and academics and developing services for the benefit of the GW community.

The president appoints cabinet members to head committees that do everything from advocating student programming to assisting student groups with their finances. But now Meisner may get removed from office following a hearing scheduled for Tuesday night.

At some point, we have to plan for an exodus of some Student Association members and others coming in, said Mike Gargano, assistant vice president for Student Academic and Support Services, who spoke hypothetically about the potential outcomes of the hearing.

He said he will not tolerate the removal of a president without a plan of action. Gargano said if Meisner gets ousted from the presidency, the Senate will have set a precedent for every president to get removed.

They will be doing the system more harm than good, Gargano said.

He said missed meetings are not cause for removing an elected student body president.

The Senate cited eight articles for removal after they impeached Meisner Oct. 29. In addition to missed meetings, the articles include failure to uphold the SA Constitution and bylaws and disregarding the rules, failing to handle financial matters relating to student groups in an expedient and responsible fashion and neglect of office duties.

Meisner said he knows the impeachment and potential removal is ridiculous and said he is looking forward to defending himself.

I’m ready for this, he said.

Meisner is not the first president to face removal. In recent history, two other GW student presidents confronted impeachment issues.

Doug Atwell was impeached in January of 1982 after senators presented an eight-point petition of removal. The petition cited that he was guilty of financial mismanagement, ignored University policy, violated SA rules and laws and generally antagonized those people with whom he was supposed to work.

Atwell escaped removal but the executive was rendered ineffective because tension persisted between senators and the president.

Mike Musante, who was elected president in 1992, avoided impeachment by resigning. In October 1992, Musante was forced to resign after he admitted that he used the word nigger in a conversation he had with other SA colleagues. The executive vice president replaced him.

Meisner said removal also is a possibility for him. For Meisner to be removed, a minimum of 14 voting senators must be present. Two-thirds of the voting senators in attendance must vote to oust him.

Both the prosecution and defense can make arguments at a hearing, which will be open to the public. But the senators will vote in a closed ballot following the arguments in a session closed to other members of the community.

Gargano said the system has a few flaws that might be worthy of evaluation after Meisner’s fate is determined. He said senators have an unfair advantage because they impeached Meisner and ultimately have control of the removal hearings as well. He suggested appointing a student jury or having student court handle impeachment hearings in the future.

Meisner announced a plan to dissolve the SA and form a new government Wednesday. Since then, he launched a petition campaign to send the issue to referendum.

As Meisner prepares to create a new government and awaits his destiny, he said he is sure of one thing.

I’m not abandoning the SA or student government, he said.

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