What started out as a return to business as usual on Sunday took a sudden turn for the unexpected as a tense and lengthy debate ensued over a new and ultimately remanded non-capital fund of the Student Activity Fee Committee (SAFC) dominated the docket for the Student Senate’s 3rd meeting of its 41st Session.
The fund’s corresponding bill – entitled “Approval of the Creation of a SAF Internally Designated Fund” and introduced by SAFC Chair Gareth Jones – urged the Senate to approve of the creation of an internal “SAFO Non-Capital Expenses Fund” designed for student activity fee officers (SAFOs) to spend on purchases such as updated computers, new furniture for office spaces and the Memorial Union Student Government Lounge, and other smaller “non-capital gains” and expenses without having to pull from the larger SAF Plant Fund, Jones explained.
Per Jones, the SAF Plant Fund represents the general Student Activity Fee and is most often used in larger “capital” expenses, such as significant purchases of new equipment for student organizations or maintenance costs for WUNH-FM’s radio tower, without affecting the value of the Student Activity Fee itself.
Per the bill, the new fund would receive a one-time transfer of $50,000 from the SAF Plant Fund, with the proposal adding that any motion to use the fund would require SAFC approval. Jones explained that the fund’s yearly value would depend on whether it held a surplus or deficit at the end of each fiscal year – between mid-June and July – and stressed that no more than $100,000 would sit in the fund at any one time. In addition, only student activity fee organizations (SAFOs), the SAF Office and the Student Senate would be authorized to use the new fund.
Jones told the body that the new fund would not only make smaller and less significant purchases easier to track and verify, it would also make the job of planning out next year’s Senate main budget more manageable.
“…A lot of times, some of those things will be built into our budget for contingency [sic], and obviously, in years where we’re facing budgetary shortfalls and things like that, trying to cut out unnecessary expenses as much as possible is great,” he said.
When asked why the fund would initially receive $50,000 for its one-time transfer, Jones said that it was a value that would allow for ample “non-capital gains” and expenses without significantly draining the larger Plant Fund.
Despite the fund’s benefits, several members, such as Deputy Speaker and Parliamentarian David Cerullo expressed concerns over the process of transferring of a substantial part of the Plant Fund into the newer, smaller fund, commenting that he felt as if the Senate and SAFC were “moving $50,000 of students’ money a little too fast,” noting that only five SAFC at-large members voted on the bill, and how half of SAFC and seven SAFC senators, the majority of voting members on SAFC-related legislation, have yet to be approved by the Senate.
Cerullo, who attended the most recent Tuesday SAFC meeting, said the bill outlining the new fund was not on the agenda and was saved for the end of the meeting without “prior notice,” resulting in alleged internal confusion over the true meaning of the proposal, its full impact on the larger Plant Fund, and whether it would be permitted under the current Senate bylaws.
“Furthermore, there are no bylaw changes…to address this new fund going through,” he added. “I’m not saying that that will never happen; I’m just saying that passing a bill that says, like, the only people who can use this are X…sure, that’s binding, but it’s not a governing document.”
In a following comment, Cerullo made the motion to remand the bill back to SAFC for further inspection, stressing that he would feel more “comfortable” with the new non-capital fund with accompanying amendments to Senate bylaws or the Standing Operating Procedures (SOPs) to permit the creation of such funds and avoid future misunderstandings.
While some senators seconded the motion, others, such as Sen. Devin Foley (Stoke 3) called it “completely unnecessary,” stressing that the bill proposing the new fund would be “democratically” approved by the Senate regardless of the absence of most of SAFC’s roster, and that members with insight on the bill would be willing to share it with the body.
“I disagree that there was a lot of confusion…I think any confusion that might have come up was clarified throughout the meeting,” Foley added. “I agree that some of these things need to be put through SOP edits, but…to kind of do two separate votes through a committee [and Senate], I think, would be fairly unnecessary…I think we’d be talking in circles and weighing down and delaying the creation of a fund that would be very beneficial to students and student orgs and could give us less hoops to go through…”
Nearly 10 minutes of heavy debate on both sides of the argument resulted in the year’s first tie vote: 19 members each voted for and against the motion to remand, resulting in Speaker Nicholas LaCourse casting the tie-breaking vote in favor of Cerullo. The final vote stood at 20 yays, 19 nays and three abstentions. LaCourse later told the body that he cast his vote to remand to “further discussion” on the bill, adding that his vote was “by convention.”
In other business, Sunday’s meeting only saw three new members unanimously approved to the general assembly – Gabby Corricelli (Upper Quad 1), Emily Dennison (Christenson 2) and Sophia Spina (Gables 1) – a decrease from the gains of the last two meetings. Despite this, SAFC, following the debate over the non-capital fund, unanimously welcomed its seven SAFC senators: Sens. Lucas Blood, Hannah Falcone, Vinny Pallotto, Paulette Niwewase, Meagan McLean and Abby LaRochelle, along with Academic Affairs Chair Jennifer Hargenrader.
Student Trustee Cailee Griffin also experienced a win when she used a bill on Sunday to unanimously welcome Sens. Blood, McLean, Madeline Strange (Handler 1), Yuri Makar (Peterson), Max Sawers (Engelhardt), Igor Campos Garcia (Upper Quad 3), Jordan Aylesworth (Non-Resident 3) and William He as the newest members of the Financial Affairs Committee.
In addition, Interim Historian Jack Bradley, who took over for former Historian Nicholas Crosby, was approved as the new official historian for the remainder of Session 41 with two nays; the vote followed concerns from some members, such as Sen. Logan Stevens, who claimed he would be best fit for more legislative tasks, highlighting his previous work on the Campus Structure Council as an example.
In terms of councils, Sunday also saw councils experiencing fluctuating membership thanks to a bill approving of their rosters. By the time the bill passed unanimously, the Judicial Affairs Council saw the greatest net increase with three new members, while the Fraternity and Sorority Affairs witnessed the night’s greatest net decrease of one, where it lost two members while gaining one. Meanwhile, the Community Development Council gained one member, the Health and Wellness Council gained and lost two members for a net gain of zero, and both the External Affairs and Campus Structure Councils lost one member each while gaining no new volunteers. The Academic Affairs Council was the only council to maintain its roster.
Following no action on bills seeking new members for the Public Relations or Judiciary Committees, the Senate ultimately adjourned at 7:02 p.m.