SGA secrecy breaks law, snubs Forum
We understand that many people at UALR don’t believe that the Student Government Association means much to begin with. But they should. After all, they are our elected representatives.
Unfortunately this group of student leaders doesn’t take a leading role in representing the student body, and hasn’t even come close to doing so for quite a few years.
Student activity fees pay for $21,000 worth of salaries for seven SGA executives each year. That’s a yearly salary of $4,500 for the president, $4,000 for the vice president, $3,750 for the chief of staff (the media liaison), as well as a good chunk of money for the rest of the executives.
Money is good, and it is an excellent way to compensate the best and brightest from the student body for their hard work, in theory. Those amounts are the equivalent of very generous scholarships.
Here’s the problem: although the SGA doesn’t harness the power given to them, they are still seen by administrators as the voice of the students.
In September 2011, The Forum published an article that reported that the SGA closed a public meeting without proper cause. At that time we couldn’t even get as much as an apology from SGA representatives. This was just the beginning of SGA’s troubles obeying the Freedom of Information Act’s open meetings laws.
We say that was just the beginning because they are at it again.
Just last week, the SGA called a special meeting to vote on a bill allowing the purchase of up to $1,000 worth of T-shirts for SGA members. Don’t get us wrong: T-shirts are great. We at The Forum love T-shirts, and we like to share ours with anyone who will wear one.
The problem here was that no one bothered to let anyone at The Forum know about the meeting, even though the law requires it because Forum representatives have requested to be notified about these types of meetings numerous times in the past. Heck, even though our offices are 57 feet apart, on opposite sides of the same room, we have even asked to be included on the SGA’s email Listserv to save them the extra effort in letting us know. That request didn’t even garner a response.
The Arkansas Freedom of Information Act says, “except as otherwise provided by law, all meetings, formal and informal, special or regular, of the governing bodies of all municipalities, counties, townships, and school districts, and all boards, bureaus, commissions or organizations of the State of Arkansas, except Grand Juries, supported wholly or in part by public funds, or expending public funds, shall be public meetings.”
To the SGA, that means you. Yes, you. Your Senate meetings are public, and you must follow the law. You are held to the same standards as municipal and county governments.
Although the chief of staff was polite enough to apologize this time around, it’s hard to believe anything will change. We are not sure how to make it any clearer.
When the incident occurred in 2011, then-President Simone Lewis used the excuse of that’s “how it’s always been.”
Apparently if it’s how it’s always been, that’s how it’s always going to be.