After accusations from ex-SA senator, finance committee pledges more transparency

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

Shashwat Gautum, a former Student Association senator, accused current student leaders of ditching their responsibilities to keep the group transparent.

After the student body approved a fee increase last year to bulk up the Student Association budget, senators promised that the campus would get more financial transparency in return.

But the regulations they passed didn’t all happen – at least, not until this week, after a former senator accused the Student Association finance committee of shirking accountability by not disclosing financial details for groups that receive the SA’s largest financial allocations.

The finance committee updated its bylaws this week to comply with two bills passed almost a year ago.

Ryan Counihan, chair of the SA Senate’s finance committee, and last year’s senate leader, Abby Bergren, both said the bylaw changes were lost in the shuffle as the group switched leadership last spring.

While the committee failed to formally update its governing document – which Bergren called “an honest mistake” – Counihan said the finance committee still gave out money according to last spring’s big financial reform bill.

But he said the group failed to enforce one key part of the legislation, which required umbrella organizations, like the Student Bar Association and the Club Sports Council, to disclose how leaders divided up its large pool of funds.

That misstep should not be ignored, said former graduate student senator Shashwat Gautam. Gautam launched an online campaign this week calling for the resignation of top SA leaders – including Counihan, SA President Julia Susuni and Executive Vice President Kostas Skordalos.

The committee published the updated bylaws online Tuesday, just hours after Gautam’s website launched. Gautam had previously emailed Counihan alerting him of the outdated bylaws last week, and then launched his website days later.

The legislation would have made public the budgets of all “umbrella” organizations, which have faced criticism for doling out cash from their large chunk of funds without public scrutiny. Umbrella organizations typically receive the largest allocations – some bringing in thousands of dollars – from the SA.

Gautam, who was a lead sponsor on that bill, called it the “biggest achievement of last year’s SA.” He said financial transparency was even more important because of the student fee hike, which will double the SA’s budget over the next decade.

“We promised to take more money from students because we promised we would be more accountable. Everything has focused on accountability and transparency,” Gautam said.

Counihan said after he noticed the regulations were not in the SA Senate’s charter last semester, he worked on a bill that added the measures already passed into the bylaws and also added tweaks to the process. It is slated to go to a vote in the Senate on Monday.

The bylaws will be updated in time for the finance committee to allocate its more than $1 million budget to hundreds of student organizations seeking funding for next year.

Bergren, last year’s senate leader, said the out-of-date bylaws were accidental. She added that she didn’t have direct access to the page on the SA’s website that keeps the bylaws because it is managed by an outside administrator.

“Because we are constantly sending new documents and information, some things get lost in translation,” Bergren said. “It’s an honest mistake that this year’s SA has been working on and trying to rectify in a way that is fair to both students and student group leaders.”

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