SGA transparency doors

Moments from the Executive Senate meetings which take place every other Tuesday in room 213 of the Zell B. Miller Learning Center on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018 in Athens, Georgia. Enterprise reporter Olivia Adams, left, was asked to leave a meeting early in the semester, but was granted access during the Nov. 13 meeting. (Photos/Miranda Kay Daniel)

As the self-proclaimed “organized voice for each student,” the University of Georgia Student Government Association has input over everything from football ticket distribution and transportation to student activity fees and early voting on campus. 

As a reporter covering the SGA beat, I have attended every meeting since the Believe administration was sworn into office in April. But on Oct. 30, before the Executive Cabinet meeting began, SGA Chief of Staff Kimani Beckford asked me to leave. 

Beckford said Cabinet meetings would be closed to the public from this point forward.

Unlike the Senate, Cabinet members are appointed and the ideas discussed in the meeting are still developing, he said. Therefore, the meetings would no longer be open to the press.  

The Cabinet, led by President Ammishaddai Grand-Jean and Beckford, includes members such as the chief implementation officer and sustainability liaison, who provide weekly updates about ongoing initiatives.

According to Article III, Section 3 of the 2018 SGA Constitution, “All meetings of SGA shall be open to all members of the University community, except where expressly provided for by this Constitution.”

Allowing visitors in the Cabinet meetings specifically is never explicitly addressed by either the Constitution or the associated statutes. The SGA statutes “shall at all times be subordinate to the Constitution” but after reviewing both the Constitution and statutes, The Red & Black found no instances of explicitly allowing for meeting closures.

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The Believe campaign poses in front of the chapel on the Universtiy of Georgia's north campus on Tuesday, March 20, 2018. (Photo/Kayla Renie, kayla.renie96@gmail.com)

When asked for an official comment about the decision to close the Cabinet meetings moving forward, Beckford declined to discuss the matter on the record. 

On Nov. 6, a week after the closed meeting, Beckford sent an email formally inviting The Red & Black to that evening’s Cabinet meeting and to discuss the possibility of future attendance. Grand-Jean refused to speak on the record at that meeting with The Red & Black. 

In SGA’s official comment, Press Secretary Donovan Harris said the initial decision to ask the press to leave was to “preserve the integrity of initiatives that were in the beginning stages of planning.”

“We made this decision based on our interpretation of our guiding documents which give the President and Chief of Staff the right to determine the proceedings and nature of cabinet meetings,” the statement read. “After reassessing the Constitution, we can see where there was a lack of clarity on the privacy of certain meetings. Our administration remains committed to increasing transparency to the student body.”

Open to the public

During the SGA elections in March, the Believe executive ticket campaigned on a platform focussed on “efficiency, transparency and cooperation.” 

Since Grand-Jean, Vice President Charlene Marsh and Treasurer Destin Mizelle were sworn into office in April, the three have focussed their attention on these initiatives.

For Marsh, transparency regarding the Senate has been a large focal point.

Senate meetings, separate from Cabinet, are comprised of representatives elected by students in every UGA college who advocate on behalf of their constituents in legislation. The meetings, as noted on the SGA website, are always open to the public and are held on alternating Tuesdays in room 350 of the Zell B. Miller Learning Center. 

“We’re trying to do a much better job of publicizing the location and time of Senate meetings, so that students can know in advance,” Marsh said. “I also love that with the new statutes, the minutes are being made public and the pieces of legislation are being made public because a lot of students simply did not know things were happening.”

Though a statute requires SGA to post Senate minutes within 24 hours following the meeting, minutes for the Oct. 16 and Oct. 30 meetings were not available until Nov. 2. As of press time, no minutes were available for the Nov. 13 meeting. 


"Our administration remains committed to increasing transparency to the student body.”

- SGA Press Secretary Donovan Harris 


 At the most recent Nov. 13 Senate meeting, SGA passed a proclamation “in support of students with Down syndrome.” 

The legislation was co-authored with Extra Special People President Tyler King and calls for members of the UGA community to support ESP@UGA’s Dress Down for the Dawgs initiative by wearing casual attire on Nov. 16 and at the UMass football game Nov. 17.

SGA senators also passed a resolution, co-authored by Grand-Jean and Senator Max Sumner, in support of extending the drop-add period by two days. 

According to the resolution, SGA will be working toward the possibility of establishing a formal bill in the University Council to make the extension possible. 

Another point of pride on behalf of the new administration is its increase in communication with UGA student groups through “listening nights,” according to a Nov. 14 SGA email sent to all students.

“Listening nights strive to create a more cohesive campus culture by uniting our unique campus communities,” the email read. 

Closed-door meetings

SGA has dealt with the minutes for the Cabinet meetings differently from those of the Executive Senate meetings. 

In an October interview, The Red & Black asked Grand-Jean about posting the Cabinet meetings online and he said they have “been keeping minutes, so we can make those available.” 

As of press time, no Cabinet minutes from this administration have been posted online, though minutes from three of the seven Senate meetings are available. 

The other minutes were not posted but instead the meetings were live-streamed on Facebook, which met the requirements of a previous statute before the Sept. 25 update explicitly stated the minutes needed to be in written form on the SGA website.

The 2018-19 statutes, approved by the administration in September, require the creation and preservation of cabinet minutes “in accordance with a policy and practice of transparency in an official archive of the Student Government Association.”  

SGA refused to comment regarding its posting of the cabinet minutes on the website. 

Aside from the regularly scheduled Cabinet and Senate meetings, SGA also conducts a meeting for the Small Clubs Allocation. 

Mizelle said he leads the discussion with four administrators and committee members to decide how to disburse student activity funds to registered student organizations. 

Every student enrolled at UGA pays the $78 student activity fee every semester, which makes up the funds distributed. 

These meetings are closed to the public and press. 

“We would not let anyone come in those meetings,” Mizelle said. “However, we would post those online. There is no reason why we would not share that information.”

As of press time, no information about the results of those meetings can be found on the SGA website.

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(4) comments

fink186

Appropriate governance is a challenging thing. Especially for those people that are responsible for it for the first time. I suggest extending grace and seeking understanding before reacting. Most organizations have closed door meetings when discussing the very early stages of ideas. Proper and appropriate timing of information release is vital to an organization's strategic goals. The SGA representatives were elected for a reason - please trust their judgement until there is clear and convincing reason(s) to not.

danieljackson

Woah, Conrad Fink?

godawgs21

That is hard to defend when this group which ran with the platform to be transparent with the student body in all capacities. The Senate is being transparent and following the same policy for which the Executive Branch is defying. Students cannot know what SGA is doing if the executive officers won't be open and honest. While I, along with most, want them to succeed they have to work with the community not against it.

fink186

I guess you would have to agree on a common definition of transparency. If you think "transparency" means having access to all discussions had by the Executive branch, then yes, that expectation is not being met. However, there are some groups that can call an "executive session" which means that the discussion is not on the record. Topics that are appropriate for this category may include certain HR discussions around someone's performance or compensation. It may be wise to press the Executive branch is to why some discussions are public and others are closed door. Again, my point is to seek to understand and gain context first, rather than too quickly assuming that something unethical is going on.

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