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Student government closes meeting despite protest

Submitted by Jennifer Ellis on September 8, 2011 – 3:40 pmNo Comment

The Student Government Association cut short its first meeting of the fall semester Wednesday, Aug. 31, so the group could meet in private to discuss an upcoming Hunger Banquet event, regardless of The Forum’s protest that the meeting should remain open.

According to the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act, “Organizations in the State of Arkansas, except grand juries, supported wholly or in part by public funds or expending public funds” are subject to open public meetings.

Closed executive sessions are only permitted for considering personnel issues and, according to the Act, “must never be called for the purpose of defeating the reason or the spirit of this chapter [of the FOIA regarding open public meetings].”

Second-term SGA President Simone Lewis said the Senate discussed the Hunger Banquet, collected member information including work and class schedules, but no personnel matters were discussed in the unofficial meeting.

Later in a conversation between The Forum, Lewis and SGA Adviser Jan Austin, who was present during the protest of the meeting being closed and in attendance at the unofficial meeting, Austin said she was stunned by the incident.

Lewis told The Forum her reason for excluding the press was she did not want details of the Hunger Banquet covered before the event; a request that was made last year prior to the first Hunger Banquet and The Forum went along with.

Lewis said having closed meetings is “how it’s always been.”

Austin attempted to coax an apology from Lewis, who said “I don’t think it would make a difference at this point,” and instead said, “I feel like we made a mistake … and from this point on it won’t happen again.”

Upon learning of the closed meeting, Logan Hampton, interim division chief for student development, said “open and fair is a tenet in American government.” He said the students might have gotten caught up in the midst of the program planning process and “need to be reminded of their roles and responsibilities.”

Hampton said the incident is an opportunity to do some education and “we will seize that moment.”

During the open portion of the Senate meeting, business included a unanimous vote to appoint Rizan Mohsin, member-at-large, to the vacant College of Science and Mathematics Senate seat, as Mohsin recently declared her major as biology.

The Senate also voted 6-4 against the Associate Justice nomination of Michael Fascio, a former member-at-large,  spring 2011 SGA presidential candidate and staff writer for The Forum.

Associate Justices serve on the Student Court, which works to resolve student grievances, settle disputes among student organizations, has the authority to appeal student traffic tickets and oversees the SGA’s elections.

During the discussion phase of the nomination in which Fascio was asked to leave the room Moshin said, “I think he’s unfit…I don’t think he is professional enough to be in here.” Moshin continued, accusing Fascio of slandering the SGA and its members, and questioning the motives and character of certain members of the association. But when she was asked to provide specific details of the accusation, she said she did not want to discuss it.

In favor of Fascio’s nomination, LaShun Burton, member-at-large, said she 100 percent disagreed with Moshin and added “he [Fascio] knows the [SGA’s] constitution like the back of his hand.”

Adesuwa Izekor, senator of the College of Professional Studies, said during the discussion that some SGA members are part of a tight-knit group and defended Fascio. “This goes beyond professionalism, it’s personal,” she said.

In a written statement to The Forum Fascio agreed, “I have never slandered anyone and I cannot believe anyone would say that about me. These allegations are personal attack and not true at all.

“The Senate used to be open to new ideas and opinions. It used to be that the Senate debated ideas openly, which helped develop those ideas. But now Simone and the rest of the executives do most of the work and everyone just agrees with them because the executives pack the Senate with their friends. The Senate used to at least try to follow Robert’s Rules or listen to a Senator that pointed out errors being made. … I feel bad because the students are the ones that are going to suffer,” Fascio said.

Rather than vote by a raise of hands, a motion was brought to vote by ballot. The Forum’s repeated requests for each Senator’s voting record as well as minutes from the meeting were not provided as of the time The Forum went to press Tuesday.

The Senate also took nominations for the Judicial Oversight Committee. According to the SGA’s constitution, it is the responsibility of the JOC to meet a minimum of once per semester and interpret and make recommendations for changes to the constitution. The committee consists of the Chief Justice of the Student Court and four Senators.

Because only one Senator from each college is able to serve on the committee, Asad Ahkter and Hamza Arshad, both of University College, played three rounds of rock-paper-scissors to determine who would be on the committee. Arshad won.

Other Senators who were named to the committee were College of Business Sen. Brittany James, College of Science and Mathematics Sen. Whitney Phillips and member-at-large Saad Azam.

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