SA senators criticize Woodard over use of student funds at restaurant

Several Student Association senators are claiming that President Omar Woodard engaged in frivolous spending when he used SA money to pay for a $414 dinner at an upscale Georgetown restaurant in August.

At an Oct. 12 Senate meeting, Woodard defended the 10-person meal, which was held at Sequoia, a restaurant on the Georgetown waterfront, with his top advisors. He said his summer budget was $17,000 less than the funding for previous administrations.

Some senators said they still do not believe the cost of the meal was justified.

“Just because he spent less than another administration doesn’t make it okay to take his cabinet out to a dinner at the Sequoia restaurant,” Ben Traverse (CCAS-U) said. “I don’t think anyone here wants their SA money being spent on expensive dinners for the executive hierarchy.”

Peter Feldman (U-At Large) said the dinner raises the larger issue of the SA executive using student funds to cover personal expenses.

“If Student Association officials want to treat themselves to a dinner, then by all means,” Feldman said. “But the idea that they are going to spend your and my annual student body fee money on their fancy dinner, I really think that’s troubling.”

Woodard, who said the Sequoia meal was the only time he used student funds to pay for a meal, refuted claims that the dinner was frivolous. He said it was legitimate to spend SA funds on a business dinner.

“Student organizations do this all the time,” he said. “We had our dinner at Sequoia restaurant and it wasn’t recreational; we were doing nothing except discussing work, which is what we did over the entire summer.”

But former SA President Kris Hart, who finished his term at the end of the spring semester, called Woodard’s meal “ridiculous” and said he only used student funds for a $35 lunch for his staff at T.G.I. Friday’s.

“I understand the desire of the president to take care of people, they work full-time over the summer and do not get paid, but this is just excessive,” Hart said.

Traverse said he will seek the expense approval form used to document the meal. The Hatchet was unable to acquire the EAF from the dinner for this article.

Traverse has only been able to look at the executive’s quick-book, which does not provide the same detail as an expense form. Quick-books only list the amount and location of the expenditure, while EAFs list each item purchased.

“Without the EAF, we don’t know how many people were there, what was bought or how the bill was paid for,” Traverse said.

Woodard said all EAFs, along with some other financial documents, will not be made available to The Hatchet even though the SA constitution requires that all financial records be made public information. In addition, the SA Student Court ruled several years ago that all financial records should be released.

“I interpret all financial records as being the releasing of the quick-books,” he said. “I know there was a court case a couple of years ago calling for financial records to be released. But I don’t think that applies to EAFs because if all of those records were released to the public, then any Joe Shmo could come in and take all the sensitive information.”

Woodard said senators might be given more access to the forms.

“If a senator wants to see an EAF, I would ask them to contact that person and then the information could be released with the sensitive information blacked out,” he said.

Senators have privately expressed concern that alcohol may have been bought at Sequoia, but Woodard said SA funds were not used to buy wine or beer. In 2002, an SA senator resigned after using $136 in student funds to buy alcohol at Riverside Liquors.

“There was one 21-year-old there and she did order a glass of wine, which she paid for separately,” Woodard said. “I made it a policy that I would not let the executive spend money on alcohol and made sure that she separated that out and she paid for that with a separate check and she paid the Student Association for that.”

Not all senators have been so quick to attack Woodard. Morgan Corr (CCAS-U) said the issue is dividing the SA.

“I feel caught in the middle between Omar and Ben; I think both have valid points,” Corr said. “I would like to hear Omar’s explanation about the dinner, because $400 is a lot of money, though. In general, I think there is too much clashing going on.”

Ryan Kilpatrick (ESIA-U) said he trusts Woodard’s judgment and believes the Senate should move on.

“If Omar has one dinner used to foster relationships within his cabinet and make plans for the year, I have no problem with that,” Kilpatrick said.

Despite some senators’ arguments, Traverse said he is upset that the dinner happened in the first place.

“The same thing could have been accomplished by everyone sitting around a conference table in the SA office for free,” Traverse said. “You don’t need a dinner at Sequoia restaurant to foster relationships and get work done.”

Woodard said he would take the opinions of Traverse and other senators into account.

“I respect that some senators may feel that this is excessive spending,” he said. “I will take their comments and suggestions and try to make sure that in their eyes that my spending is as responsible as possible.”

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