The Student Association investigative branch has recommended the removal of Sen. J. P. Blackford (G-SEAS) after finding him in violation of multiple SA bylaws.
Justin Oshana, vice president of Legislative and Judicial Affairs, distributed a letter Monday reporting the results of an investigation into allegations of SA fund misuse by Blackford. The letter states Blackford violated several bylaws when he filed improper expenditure reports and covered up his actions. Oshana said a full report with further details will be released next week.
The Blackford investigation focused on two expenditure approval forms he filed dating back to last year. The VPJLA investigation concluded that an April EAF accounted for the purchase of alcohol from Riverside Liquors for an SA Senate mixer.
In a second EAF, for an engineering conference he attended in Canada, Blackford both approved his own $440 expenditure and incorrectly identified himself as a financial officer of the Engineers’ Council, the report said.
Blackford called the charges for the Engineers’ Council EAF “minor violations” and said the SA bylaws regarding financial officers “have been interpreted in different ways.” He also said both questionable EAFs were approved by the vice president of financial affairs and raised no questions at the time of their filing.
“These EAFs are as close to fraud as you can get inside the SA without taking the money and running with it,” Oshana said. “It’s a little outrageous that everyone else in the Senate hasn’t asked him to resign.”
At least five senators have called on Blackford to resign – Adam Greenman (U-CCAS), Mark Hershfield (Law), Nina Kollars (G-ESIA), Omar Woodard (U-ESIA) and Rodney Zwahlen (Law). Blackford said he has talked with Kollars and hopes to “address her concerns.”
Kollars said Sunday that she will resign if Blackford is not removed, but said she is waiting for the official release of the VPJLA report.
The student government has been plagued by scandal since the SA discovered a $50,000 budget shortfall in September. Oshana said he came upon the EAF that included a non-itemized receipt from Riverside Liquors during the budget crisis.
Oshana said the April EAF was “very suspicious looking,” prompting him to further investigate the matter.
During the course of the investigation, SA Executive Vice President Eric Daleo told Oshana that the Riverside receipt did account for a purchase of alcohol, according to the letter. Blackford listed the $136 purchase from the E Street liquor store as “soda and ice.”
“I am waiting to see the full and complete results of the report,” Daleo said. “If there is indeed proof beyond a doubt of violations, then I will be the first to call on Senator Blackford to step down.”
Though Blackford has maintained the $136 was spent on a root beer keg and ice, the VPJLA report concluded that there was no record of a keg contract in the liquor store. Oshana also said he could find no witnesses who had attended the party who saw a root beer keg.
The EAF and the surrounding controversy was the topic of heated debate at the SA town meeting Monday. More than 70 students attended the meeting in the Marvin Center, at times shouting at senators.
“There was a lot of tension in the room,” said Blackford, who personally came under fire for the EAFs multiple times during the meeting.
At the meeting, Daleo said he never admitted the EAF accounted for an alcohol purchase.
“I wasn’t with J.P. (Blackford) when or if he bought alcohol (from Riverside Liquors),” Daleo said. Daleo added that he has since made a commitment not to sign EAFs accounting for alcohol purchases.
“It seems that Justin (Oshana) misconstrued what Eric Daleo said (in the report),” Blackford said.
” (Daleo) gave blatantly false information to students at the meeting,” Oshana said. He said he would resign if no action were taken on his report, which will be sent to the Senate for consideration.
“I want to stay and help fix the things that are wrong in the SA,” Oshana said. “If (the Senate) chooses to do nothing, my ability to change things is gone.”
Kollars, who threatened to resign if it was found that SA funds were used to purchase alcohol, said the town hall meeting had unintended consequences for the student government.
“It’s my fear that senators are losing their determination for accountability,” Kollars said.
The meeting, which was scheduled before the recent EAF discoveries, reached its emotional zenith when Sen. Blake Newmark (CCAS-G) yelled “shut up” to a student questioning her in the open forum. She later apologized for her remarks.
“This is like Watergate if Nixon had stayed in office,” Oshana said.