USG faces pushback during open forum

USG meets to discuss forum, student concern proceedings

Written By Mitchell Drake, USG Beat Writer

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The United Student Government (USG) met on Monday to discuss details concerning the Meet Your Candidate town hall event, Election Board nominations and transparency.

The Rules Committee has worked on assembling an Election Board and how to fix elections to “better suit our needs and the needs of students” according to Senator Grace Tyler Frank-Rempel. Senators nominated Montana Gabriele, Justin Stocklas and Nicole Pampena to the Election Board.

Last week’s Student Concerns Forum yielded over 50 reported concerns, yet Recording Secretary Sophie Burkholder stated that the event failed to generate public discussion over any concerns they wanted to submit. She detailed that students would walk to the center table that had empty concern slips and a box to drop them off at. Once the students would fill out a slip, they would just drop their concern in the box, get pizza, then leave. No senators were present at their stations in the center to greet them, so students and senators did not have direct engagement.

“I was not pleased with how everyone treated the forum in terms of a social event with senators and not a social event with students and senators,” Burkholder said.

Senator Jake Berlin asked Burkholder whether the event’s inefficiency was to blame on the students or the other senators. She maintained that students were not to blame, as they were essentially told that free pizza was an incentive to writing down a concern and had no senators speak with them to work anything out with their concern.

“You know what the forum is for,” Burkholder said.

Senator Mary Shelly of the Communications Committee released more plans for the Meet Your Candidate town hall event. Shelly detailed graphic designs for the event and that former USG President Robert Bertha was approved to moderate the event. Shelly also noted that the candidates will be asked confidentially-held, pre-formulated questions.

The topic of the formulated questions fueled a debate on the transparency of USG’s operations.

Senator Alexa Lake stated her concerns about the pre-formulation through a scenario. She said that the average student may not know what a town hall event is, so they would most likely search for what they are online. Lake pulled the definition from Wikipedia to supplement her point.

“Town hall meetings, also referred to as town halls or town hall forums, are a way for local and national politicians to meet with their constituents,” Lake said, citing the definition from Wikipedia.

According to the definition, she believes that the event should have direct engagement between the candidates and the public audience by allowing them to ask their own questions to see what kind of reactionary responses they can give “on the spot.”

Berlin agreed with the sentiment that the confidential crafting of questions and a third-party advisor could potentially make the situation seem biased.

”I hope you can also understand that there’s people who think that you may be biased just by proximity of your position and that you are appointed by people who may be on that stage,” Berlin said.

Senator Dennis McDermott defended the use of the pre-formulated questions, saying that those questions are not the only questions being asked. The pre-formed questions are planned to spur conversations about different issues and not address the anticipated popular questions referring to CulinArt, elevators and other common areas of issues.

Senator Mathew Johnson spoke about an email sent by Communications Director Shelby Fink that discussed concerns with the openness of Executive Cabinet meetings, mentioning that students are currently only able to attend the beginning of the meetings. This contradicts a bylaw that only makes meetings private if they violate federal or state law or an individual’s rights to privacy.

President Kaylee Kearns stated that the private meetings do not entail major decisions and leave decision-making to take place during legislative body meetings. Parliamentarian Matthew Spadaccia added that President Pro Tempore Megan Ortego’s position is that of a liaison between the legislative body and executive cabinet, releasing details and knowledge only talked about during the private meetings.

Berlin stated that last week’s minutes had redacted names and details that were only censoring complaints about other senators or complaints about professors from executive cabinet members.

The open forum towards the end of the meeting was largely consumed by a discussion regarding privacy in executive cabinet meetings.

Dannys Marrero, of U-View, and Prim Green, of Black Student Union both attended the legislative body meeting, along with several other students, and expressed their displeasure with the current closed executive cabinet meetings and redactions from meeting minutes, and questioned what and whose privacy was being protected.

Johnson suggested that USG define privacy in the constitution so executive cabinet meetings can either be opened to the public, or closed for a specific privacy issue.

The meeting was moved to adjourn by Berlin after an ongoing exchange between students attending the meeting, senators, and executive cabinet members lasted for approximately half an hour.

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