Tuesday, January 25, 2011

SGA senators push reform

Published in The Daily Helmsman Jan. 21, 2011
Also available to read at dailyhelmsman.com.
Photo courtesy of dailyhelmsman.com

In coming weeks, the Student Government Association at The University of Memphis will put to vote reformed bylaws that, if passed, will modify power distribution within SGA's three branches and alter eligibility requirements of senators.

Tyler DeWitt, SGA senator and junior accounting major, spearheaded the project, which he calls the "Comprehensive Reform Package."  He said he and other senators spent most of winter break adjusting the bylaws, referencing federal bills and constructing SGA's statutes in a similar fashion.

Though it is only 75 to 80 percent complete, DeWitt said, the reform will "clean up" SGA's procedures and is "addressing issues students have brought up," but they are "nothing too drastic."
DeWitt said the package will be completed by Tuesday.
A key component of the modified bylaws is an ethics reform clause that would create a check on the executive branch of SGA.  According to DeWitt, the current bylaws leave "too much power on one branch."
The executive council members will be held accountable for their 10 required office hours per week in this new reform.
"If we are going to do this, earn your keep," DeWitt said, referring to the need for executive officers to, in his opinion, give "100 percent" if they receive perks and stipends.
DeWitt said that no current revision has been made to the SGA Constitution about executive stipends, but that could be an issue that should be addressed by the SGA in the future.
Though the ethics reform is still under construction, DeWitt said he wants the senate to construct the executive council's bylaws so that "a check and balance" is put on the executive branch.  Under current rules, the executive branch creates its own bylaws.
Gian Gozum, SGA senator and junior economics major, agreed that power in branches will be distributed more evenly if these bylaws are adopted.
"The bylaws will help us do our job easier and lessen bureaucracy in some areas," he said.
Sophomore dietetics major Mitul Patel said he is in favor of the bylaw reformation.
"I think it would be a good thing because it would make the executive level be more honest," he said.
The Comprehensive Reform Package will also raise the required 2.0 GPA for senators to a 2.5.
"If you can't make 2.5, you might need to focus on school," DeWitt said, "and SGA will be a distraction."
Jackie Hicks, sophomore nursing/biology major, said she thinks the new checks and balances are necessary.
"Regarding the checks on the executive branch, I think there should be more," she said. "They should be held up to the same standards as any official elected in a democratic fashion ... policies, budgets and expenditures should be reviewable and voted on by those who elect them to office. I realize this may be impractical and not feasible, but there must be some accountability to the entire student body, not just the elected few."
"Raising the GPA would mean the senators had to have knowledge in order to lead properly," Patel added.
Other smaller issues addressed in the new bylaws are a provision that stipulates the speaker of the senate should act in a professional and fair manner, a specific outline of the impeachment procedures, and a request to keep an accurate voting record, detailing which senators voted for what bills and how they voted.
DeWitt said that "transparency is important," and the bylaws will require the record of votes to be posted on SGA's website within a week of the meetings.  
Currently, attendance is logged, and the numbers of "yes" votes and "no" votes are recorded, but there is nothing in place that shows how a particular senator has voted.
"That's not exactly easy," DeWitt said, "but we have not made much progress in the area.  Maybe if we address it through bylaws, we might get something done."
He also said that in the future, something SGA may consider is an electronic voting system for the UC Senate Chambers, which is used by the faculty and staff senates as well.   He said it might be something The University could invest in.
DeWitt added that no one is to blame for the bylaws' current state but that they were simply outdated and need to be organized.
"When it comes down to it, it's execution," he said.
He said these bylaws will help clearly portray what is required out of each position in SGA and, in return, will help students hold SGA officials accountable.
"Students are the boss," DeWitt said.
He said U of M has 36 senators and over 22,000 students, so senators should "keep that in perspective when making decisions."
"How do we know what to change if we don't hear from students?" he said.  "SGA is here for the needs and interests of students."
He said he hopes to post the new bylaws online if they pass through the senate and welcomes any student to access the suggestion box on SGA's website, memphis.edu/sga, to voice an opinion on the new bylaws.  
He added that "it's important for us (students) to hold our elected officials accountable" and that SGA representatives are "at the request of our constituents."

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