Too little, too late.
Let me sum up the impeachment hearing of Student Association President Phil Meisner with those four words. For those of you who found better things to do at 3 a.m., that is all you really need to know. More than 10 times during his testimony Wednesday morning, Student Association President Phil Meisner was confronted with mistakes he made, and each time he apologized.
Too little, too late.
Watching the Trial of the Century unfold at M&M night in the Moot Court Room in front of a packed audience, I came to one of two conclusions. Either Meisner was some type of evil genius who almost successfully manipulated the Senate, the executive, the administration and the student body, or he is incredibly incompetent.
Unfortunately, it became pretty clear it was the latter.
I realized quickly that Meisner was pretty much out of the loop of the Meisner administration. Throughout the hearing, it became clear that Steven Mandelbaum and Cat Sadler were really calling the shots, even though no one voted them into office. It seemed Mandelbaum was handling the money, picking which expenditure forms got processed, and Sadler was making the appointments and confusing the candidates in the process.
Some of the charges against Meisner were serious, others were downright petty. No one really cares if someone was left off an e-mail list. But the fact that Meisner told Jeremy Dutra, the vice president of Legislative and Judicial Affairs, to take over during his illness is downright illegal under SA law. You don’t have to be at the SA office to know that if Meisner is gone, Executive Vice President Caity Leu takes over.
There is a fine line between incompetence and illegal. And it became clear that in this case, one led to another. Each time Phil was confronted with a charge, he mentioned one of his advisers handled the situation. Frankly, I don’t think he knew what was going on. I don’t think anyone assumed Meisner had malicious intent, but I think he got in way over his head and was not ready for the constant pressure and responsibility that comes with the job. When you’re SA president, a lot of people want things from you. He wasn’t ready for it.
And the people who were working with Meisner were not serving the student body the way the SA should and probably weren’t even serving Meisner well. It is too bad that Meisner has to sit up there and take the heat for things he didn’t necessarily control. But maybe the lack of control of the organization is what the problem was in the first place. With friends like that, who needs enemies?
Excuses are tools of the incompetent, Prosecutor Nathan Williams told the Senate, acting as the jury. Each time Meisner apologized, he dug his hole deeper. It was his press secretary’s fault that the letter to student groups said the organization was going to be dissolved, even though he didn’t have the power to do that. It was the computer’s fault for inadvertently removing people who just happened to be against Phil from an e-mail list after the impeachment. Come on, whatever happened to The buck stops here?
Theater of the absurd dragged on last night a lot longer than it should have. Although Chief Judge Peter Marquez ran a strict court, both sides felt the need to bring up every minute detail and put the Senate to sleep. And the audience, which included a who’s who of former SA presidents, EVPs and justices, slowly crept out as the hours tallied up.
In the end, it became clear. The SA’s role is to do what is in the best interest of the student body. And for one reason or another, Meisner and his cronies lost sight of that. What they did, whether malicious or not, was not helping students. And the Senate saw that for what it was worth.
After a long night, the weary Senate saw through the rhetoric and made the right choice. None of the offenses, by themselves, warranted removal. But put them together, and it was the definition of gross negligence.
And now it is time for the Leu administration to take over. She needs to bring this organization back to its core, advocacy for students. That is what it was founded on, what it was in its heyday. The SA should be more than an ATM – doling out money is not its primary role. Leu, the Senate and her staff have a huge task ahead of them, trying to climb out of the pit the SA is now in.
It will be interesting to see whether the disillusion momentum stays with Meisner out of office. I am the first to agree that the current process is flawed. But, before students throw out the charter, I have to ask this one question: What process would be better? To dissolve the SA just to put in a similar government would be a complete waste of time and resources. If this thing has worked for 25 years, it probably can withstand any damage Phil Meisner and others threw at it.
Let’s give the SA another chance, and see whether the new Leu administration can pick up the pieces.
-The writer is special projects editor of The Hatchet