Poor record-keeping could leave SGA’s constituents in the dark

Apr 7th, 2009 | By | Category: Campus News, News

Jason McGill
Assistant Editor

As the Student Government Association transitions into the 2009-2010 session, the new administration would do well to look into record-keeping practices at SGA that are at best suspicious and at worst illegal.

On February 23, The Underground requested SGA budget and attendance records going back to 2005, the year that SGA became wholly funded by student fees.

It took 18 days for SGA to produce this year’s budget, and no explanation for the delay was given outside of being busy.

The attendance information provided for the current year was incomplete, as it didn’t list the names or total number in attendance for many of the meetings.

Courtney Wendell, a junior and SGA’s director of public relations, referred reporters to the SGA archive in Meyer Library to obtain attendance and budget information from previous years. However, there were no recent attendance records on file, and the most recent complete budget in the archive dates back to 1993.

Missouri’s Sunshine Law states that all records of public governmental bodies, with certain explicit exceptions, shall be open to public inspection.

The law also mandates that such bodies appoint a custodian of records, who will respond within three business days in writing to any records request.

It also states that in the minutes of public meetings, a record of members both absent and present will be included.

Currently, SGA minutes do not include information on attendance.

Jon Stubblefield, sophomore and SGA’s sergeant-at-arms, said that sign-in sheets, the method of taking attendance at Senate meetings, are used primarily to track absences and determine if a quorum is present.

“When I first took on the position, I don’t know if I counted everyone in attendance,” Stubblefield said, “but since January I’ve had a numerical count.”

Overall attendance numbers and trends are not collected or reported to anyone.

Additionally, in the Bylaws of the Senate, Article I, Section 2, Paragraph A states that minutes will be available in the Senate office and, “on the SGA website no later than 5 p.m. one day prior to the next meeting.”

The minutes from February 17, 24 and from March 3 were not posted on the website until March 13.
As of press time, minutes from SGA meetings since March 3 are not on the website.

Far from a small matter, Article IV, Section 9, Paragraph D of the SGA Constitution states that SGA officers are subject to impeachment by the Senate for, “failure to uphold this constitution and its bylaws.”

SGA does not have a custodian of records position, but Ashley Hoyer, junior and SGA’s chief of staff, said that she is in charge of keeping records and uploading minutes to the website.

SGA has no equivalent to an inspector general or government accountability office, according to Hoyer.

“Our Senate is our accountability office,” she said. However, in the SGA Constitution, the Senate is not given the power to conduct investigations, compel witnesses, or audit records.

Without a complete record, nor a clear charge of responsibility for checking and auditing records, accountability becomes impossible.

For example, Wendell said there were significant decreases in the amount of payroll taken by the cabinet in the past couple of years.

“I’ve only taken six hours (of payroll) this semester. Whitney (Paul) works entirely for free,” Wendell said.

As of December 2008, salaries in the current budget accounted for 40 cents of the one dollar charge each student pays to support SGA. This is roughly in line with the amount spent in 1993 (thirty-nine percent).

But, without recent budgets to compare, it’s impossible to gauge how much progress is being made in saving money, or even whether Wendell’s statement is accurate.

The SGA Senate Archival Act of 2009, passed on February 3 of this year, begins to address the problem of record keeping.

It mandates that all resolutions, memoranda, executive papers, and Campus Judicial Board decisions be delivered to the library archive and that all those documents from the current session and the past two sessions be available in SGA’s Document Management System, a computer based system.

However, attendance and voting records are not addressed in the act and neither are budgets.

There is also no mention of a system for organizing the records or summarizing their content, making it onerous for students or SGA members to sift meaningful information from the data.

The act does not create a system for handling open record requests, nor does it charge any officer or committee with investigating and auditing records.

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  1. First of all, SGA doesn’t fall under the Missouri Sunshine Law. It’s the student government of a university.

    Second of all,”said that” is all over the place in this story. “That” is completely unnecessary. As a newspaper, you should be eliminating extra words, not adding them.

  2. Thanks for your comments.

    We said SGA may be in violation of the law because we don’t think it’s clear whether SGA falls under the sunshine law or not. I went into some detail on that subject here: http://www.msu-underground.com/archives/471

    In any case, I think the sunshine law is a metric readers would be familiar with and can use to assess SGA’s performance.