Budget in limbo due to ‘invalid’ vote

At Tuesday night’s Student Association meeting a very important vote occurred—or did it?

According to the S.A. code, the annual budget must be passed by the third Tuesday in April for the following academic year.That was Tuesday night’s senate meeting. However, due to an inaccurate assessment of attendance, the $1.4 million budget was voted on illegally, said sources attending the meeting.

"I don’t like how the bill was passed," Senator Robert Chiappone said.

The problem stems from a parliamentary concept called quorum. Robert’s Rules of Order, which the Senate uses to govern their meetings, states that substantive business cannot be made unless a majority of the voting members are present. This bare minimum is called quorum. The current Senate is composed of 22 members, according to a voting document obtained by the Oswegonian. That makes the quorum 12 senators for any Senate business. Before voting on the budget Tuesday, the meeting had exactly 12 members.

After a procedural vote that forced an end to the debate on the budget bill, Senator Mike Pany left the meeting in Mahar 214 before the final vote was taken, leaving the room with only 11 senators.

"I didn’t like the forced end of debate on the budget," Pany said. "I thought that, by leaving, I could have forced their hand and they would have gone back to debating and amending the bill."

After Pany departed, Senator Adrian Ramirez made a point of order to the meeting’s chair, suggesting the vote could not continue because of the absence of quorum. The point of order went unrecognized and the vote continued.

"If the chair notices the absence of a quorum, he or she should declare this fact, at least before taking any vote or stating the question on any new motion," according to the Robert’s Rules website. "Any member noticing the apparent absence of a quorum can and should make a Point of Order to that effect whenever another person is not speaking."

Senator Matthew Harmer said that even though the motion was made and ignored, the budget was voted legally, because Ramirez’s motion was poorly timed, and, thus, did not need to be recognized. Others disagree, and Seantor Pany is just one of those who are saying the budget was voted illegally.

"If senate doesn’t have quorum, they’re not allowed to do business," S.A. President-Emeritus Steven DiMarzo said. "If they did not have quorum, the vote is invalid which means the budget did not pass."

While it is written that the budget should be passed by the third Tuesday in April, there are no consequences if Senate misses this deadline, DiMarzo said. President Jon McDonald and Vice President Nate Hemmes could extend the deadline for the budget by declaring that the association is facing "extraordinary circumstances," according to the S.A. code. This is what Vice President-Emeritus T.J. Scandaliato did last year during S.A.’s financial crisis.

No clear solution presents itself going forward, but there are many options. The Senate could recognize that the bill passed on unfirm legal ground and vote to reconsider the budget next Tuesday, when they might have more senators in attendance. Or President McDonald could veto the bill, which would not necessarily resolve the issue if the veto is overturned. Another option is that the Senate could simply do nothing, leaving the association open to a challenge in S.A. Supreme Court if any senator or club does not like the budget and files a grievance.

"At this point, it would be inappropriate to comment about what occurred Tuesday evening because it is a matter that may inspire future litigation to come before the court," said Alicia O’Grady, the most senior justice on the S.A. Supreme Court.

While the proposed budget this year restored funding to organizations after last year’s fiscal situation, some organizations received higher funding increases than others. The Latino Student Union, now a Tier II organization, received a Budget Council recommendation of $3,500 which the Finance Committee cut to $2,000.

"I really do think there’s this paradigm that bigger organizations usually get what they ask for and smaller ones have to prove themselves," said Supreme Court Associate Justice Adam King. "It all goes back to this idea that there are some organizations that are just too big to fail, especially with WTOP because there’s a large interest primarily because of such things as streaming hockey games so that they are looked at as an organization that is important to the image of the Student Association."

Even though the chair of the finance committee does not have a vote in finance committee, he does have influence.

"He’s got a say in it but he doesn’t have a decision in finance committee because he doesn’t vote," S.A. Director of Finance Armando Franco said.

It has been called into question if some of the increases given to larger organizations were made unbiased.

"With WTOP, we threw a lump sum of money for programming and there really wasn’t any breakdown for it based on past history," Franco said. WTOP received $21,522.00 for programming for the next academic year.

Chair of the Finance Committee Kris Brandow also serves as an executive board member for WTOP, whose budget went from $37,252.77 this year to $61,414.00, about a 65 percent increase. Brandow cited the increase as needed to supplement the cuts that had been made to WTOP in the past.

"There was a down trend that I saw when I was looking through the budget as far as how much funding WTOP had in past years," Brandow said.

However, on closer examination of past budgets, WTOP has received fluctuating budgets. For the 2007-08 academic year, WTOP was given $39,300; in 2008-09, the organization received $35,702; in 2009-10 they received $40,150 and in 2010-11 they received $37,252.77. The proposed WTOP budget for 2011-12 academic year is the highest it has ever been.

"I’ll be completely honest right here. As far as ‘TOP’s original budget, the budget that came from budget council, I wasn’t there when they did it. I had no part in that, I had parts in the other organizations that got cuts. We tried our best to fund them," Brandow said. "We, as in budget council, now we tried our best to fund them as much as possible and then finance committee saw things differently at times. But just because I’m chair of finance committee and WTOP got increases and other organizations didn’t, doesn’t necessarily mean I had a hand in that."

At Tuesday night’s meeting, Pany proposed an amendment to the budget that would cut WTOP’s funding in order to give additional funding to other organizations who came to appeals.

"Before they got a $24,000 increase, I thought that was unfair. That was money that could be spent on other clubs," Pany said at the meeting. "That was a little bit too much money to give to one organization, this would be a sufficient cut to allow us to spend the money elsewhere."

Brandow, however, disagreed.

"I’m not against cutting them down…but I think it’s kind of ludicrous that you keep saying, ‘well you guys shouldn’t be able to increase, you guys shouldn’t be able to expand; only the smaller little people should be able to expand,’" Brandow said at the senate meeting.

"‘TOP has benefited 250 students, it’s benefited the community, the school loves WTOP for all the athletic sports streaming they do, all the work they do to expand," Brandow said later at the meeting. "So why are we saying…‘we’re going to take it away from this org. and give it to another organization that we haven’t seen prove themselves yet, that we haven’t seen expand, that we haven’t cut back much from before. We really need to think about what we’re doing, instead of just being irrational just because it’s $24,000.’"

However, some senators disagreed with Brandow.

"Overall, no [there was not a conflict of interest], but there is a difference between advocating for your organization and giving them a $24,000 increase," said a senator who was present Tuesday night but wished to remain nameless. "I don’t think Brandow did it maliciously because it is well known that he is part of WTOP and that the organization received the increase. So it wasn’t as if he was hiding the money from Senate. While many clubs received increases, and some even doubled these were smaller Tier I and Tier II organizations which was fair but an unfair increase was WTOP who received $61,000 for next year – this year they had $37,000."

Another point of contention on the budget is the increase in executive branch salaries. The current vice president’s salary was raised from $1,965 to $3,150; the president’s salary was raised from $2,520 to $3,150; the director of finance’s salary was raised from $3,024 to $3,780; the two assistant directors of finance salaries increased from $600 to $750. Two director of finance summer salaries (for summer ‘11 and summer ‘12) were raised from $560 to $700 and $280 to $380, respectfully. The two president summer salaries were also increased; the current president will receive $700 and the next president’s summer salary went from $280 to $300.

The vice president’s salary was the largest increase.

"The more time the vice president has to go out and do those kinds of things, the more he benefits the students," Brandow said. "It helps so that he doesn’t have to get other types of income in because the more we give to them the less they have to go out and seek other jobs, just like the director of finance and the president."

In addition to salary increases, the director of finance, vice president and president all received $400 for nutritional compensation. With all salary and nutritional compensation total, an additional $4,031 was given to S.A. executive board members.

Brandow is not the only senator who is involved with another organization. According to Franco, the majority of senators have other interests.

"They’re really not trained well enough to make decisions that are unbiased," Franco said. "Their reasoning is not rational because there is a lot of subjectiveness in there."

DiMarzo recognized a similar problem during his time as president.

"I think there are some more vocal senators who have a great influence over the rest of the group," DiMarzo said. "I think there’s a conflict of interest because of increases that organizations received in finance committee compared to budget council."

DiMarzo cited tactics, such as calling a question to end a debate, which results in voting on the right to vote, and ending debate on an issue. As soon as a call to question is taken and seconded, senate can then move to vote on the matter.