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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    State open meeting laws should apply to ASUA

    It is becoming increasingly apparent that some of ASUA’s elected officials are content to let bylaws be bygones.

    Last week, Blanca Delgado, a senator for the Associated Students of the University of Arizona and member of the ASUA Appropriations Board, moved to strike some decisions of the board after learning that board members may have had secret Skype conversations during meetings. The resolution was passed by a near-unanimous vote, with the lone dissenter, Sen. Erik Lundstrom, saying it didn’t go far enough. ASUA President James Allen, however, said the conversations were allowable.

    According to Allen, because ASUA is funded by students, not the public, it is not beholden to open meetings laws. Of course, that doesn’t mean Allen approves of such activities, as he said the conversations were not good, but legal.

    The ASUA Constitution, which was ratified in 2006, says all ASUA Senate meetings will be conducted in accordance with state open meetings laws. So what reasonable justification does the Senate have for bypassing an explicitly impermissible bylaw? Well, none. Allen said as much in later interviews with the Daily Wildcat.

    The Skype conversations were approved as a way to make the appropriations board more efficient, since it often runs over its meeting time, Allen said. Board members would use Skype to talk about process matters as a means to expedite votes.

    And, as Allen pointed out, ASUA deals with student funds. If student government members treat their meetings like a joke, how can we trust that the money isn’t a joke to them as well?

    Allen also said the conversations had been going on for several years prior to his presidency. This means that numerous senators, advisers, executives and cabinet members knew about the conversations, and yet not one of them thought to check to see if they were allowable, or to police what board members were talking about.

    The foundation of Allen’s argument, that ASUA is not publicly funded and therefore doesn’t have to uphold open meetings laws, is never substantiated in the Arizona Revised Statutes. According to an issue brief from the Arizona state Senate, the law “requires all meetings of any public body to be public meetings and all persons so desiring to be permitted to attend and listen to the deliberations and proceedings. A gathering of a quorum of members, in any fashion (in person, electronically, telephonically, etc.), at which the members discuss, propose or take any legal action, constitutes a meeting.”

    But that’s not where the story ends. Allen said in the Senate meeting on Wednesday that Skype wasn’t even being used to discuss work-related matters, which will lead to a re-evaluation of the process. So the issue now becomes what is worse: the fact that the rationales for decisions made by a public board are being kept hidden, or the fact that while you were trying to secure funding for a professional development seminar, they were deciding where to grab a beer after you’d finally finished talking.

    We can split hairs about whether or not ASUA is legally allowed to, but the issue is that ASUA must commit itself to transparency. Allen said that he will instruct the board to cease Skype-ing forthwith.

    “Skype is done,” he said.

    In the interest of full disclosure, because you know, the Daily Wildcat believes in that, Allen is checking with ASUA’s legal counsel to see if he can give the Wildcat full, unedited transcripts of these Skype conversations. Then you can feel free to crash their after-appropriations board brouhaha and tell them in person how you feel about your due process rights being blatantly ignored.

    — Editorials are determined by the Daily Wildcat editorial board and written by one of its members. They are Bethany Barnes, Kristina Bui, Megan Hurley, Steven Kwan, Luke Money and Michelle A. Monroe. They can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu or on Twitter via @WildcatOpinions .

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