War of Words: Ousted Elections Committee Chair pleads case

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War of Words: Ousted Elections Committee Chair pleads case

By Harrison Kaminsky, Cristina Holtzer & Mahita Gajanan / The Pitt News Staff

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After more than two hours of debate lasting until after midnight on Friday, the Student Government Board former Elections Committee Chair will find out her fate in 24 to 48 hours.

The SGB Judicial Committee oversaw former Elections Committee Chair Lauren Barney’s appeal of the Board’s decision to dismiss her in a public hearing held Thursday night.

Roughly 35 people attended the hearing, which started at 10:12 p.m. in a conference room outside the SGB office on the eighth floor of the William Pitt Union. The Judicial Committee will release the hearing results within 24 to 48 hours, according to Judicial Committee Chair Audrey Winn.

The Board dismissed Barney Friday, Oct. 31, via email, stating concerns over misconduct prompted in part by a hearing and deliberation she held in the Board’s office on Oct. 29. The hearing followed presidential candidate Wasi Mohamed’s complaint about competitor and current Board member Graeme Meyer and his affiliated 87’s slate.

Judicial Committee Vice Chair Andrew Van Treeck heard the case after Winn recused herself, stating a conflict of interest because she and Barney are friends. The Judicial Committee then heard opening statements from Board President Mike Nites, who represented the Board, and Barney, who represented herself. Both parties provided evidence — including text messages, email threads and names of witnesses — to the Judicial Committee.

In his opening statement, Nites said the Board dismissed Barney because she “was a danger, and still is a danger, to the elections process.” Nites said the Board alerted Barney to her misconduct on many occasions before her dismissal and listed occasions when the Board was dissatisfied with her conduct.

“I did not know the full reason why I was dismissed,” Barney said in her opening statement. “I was never informed until today.”

Barney said, in her opinion, the charges brought against her were an attempt by Nites to help his “fraternity brother and protégé,” Meyer, secure the SGB presidency for next term, and that the Board had “no standing to dismiss me.”

Following opening statements, both parties introduced several exhibits of evidence to the Judicial Committee. Nites presented a list of what he identified as mistakes made by Barney during her time as elections chair, including leaving SBG public meetings early, leaving confidential information in a printer in the SGB office, losing track of a candidate’s personal check in the SGB office, throwing a “temper tantrum” after a meeting and allowing a non-voting member of SGB to be present during an official Elections Committee hearing on Wednesday, Oct. 29.

“Her mistakes demonstrate that she cannot conduct a fair election,” Nites said.

Barney presented correspondence with several of the candidates running for election next term, a statement from the Elections Committee stating its lack of bias, the 2014 elections timeline, attendance rosters to two of her elections workshops and a series of texts and emails with other members of SGB.

Following the presentation of evidence, both parties brought forth witnesses. Nites called four witnesses and Barney called 10.

Nites asked current Elections Committee Chair Kevin Tracey if he could speak on Barney’s conduct during the elections hearing on Oct. 29. Tracey said Barney did not officially motion to vote during the hearing, one of the key components of Robert’s Rules of Order. Tracey said he could not recall how many times Barney asked the Elections Committee for their vote during that hearing.

Barney’s witnesses included candidates running for SGB. Barney asked each candidate if he or she thought Barney had shown bias while working as the elections committee chair.

Candidate Jack Heidecker, a sophomore majoring in German and political science, said he was “very convinced” that Barney had shown no bias and that her dismissal had “thrown him for a loop.”

Presidential candidate Andrew Stefanick concurred that Barney had not shown bias during the elections process.

Barney said even though Nites dismissed any allegations of bias as part of the Board’s case against her, she decided to make it a major part of her case because it was the catalyst for her removal.

Nites also called Board member Sarah Klein and asked her to elaborate on what the Board discussed during the Board’s planning meeting on Oct. 31. Klein said the Board, minus Meyer and Meghan Murphy, who is also running next term, discussed only Barney’s conduct. Klein said the Board quickly dismissed and deemed irrelevant any allegations of bias by the Elections Committee.

Barney called Zach Schaffer, Elections Committee member and vice president of Hillel, the Jewish student organization on campus, of which Barney is also a part. He compared Barney’s failure to use Robert’s Rules of Order to Nites’ failure to set up monthly review sessions with each of the committee chairs, as he is supposed to do based on Section 1.02 Part A, No. 14 of the Duties of the President, of the of the SGB governing code.

“So, even if Lauren didn’t follow some of Robert’s Rules or some of the procedures she was supposed to,” Schaffer said, “she did intend to issue a fair, honest and efficient election, regardless of whether she missed one or two of those minute details.”

Nites said his procedure in how he communicates with committee chairs differs when it is not a part of an official meeting, like Barney’s was on Oct. 29. He also said if Barney sought a formal meeting with him to discuss any problems, she was free to schedule one.

“It doesn’t say that I have to do formal sit-down meetings with them,” Nites said. “I make it continuous communication. I don’t think [the two issues] are very related at all.”

Following witness statements, the Judicial Committee addressed each party with questions about the necessity of Robert’s Rules of Order and whether the decision to dismiss Barney was unanimous. Nites said it was.

Barney said the way the Judicial Committee ran the hearing was fair, even without knowing the official ruling.

“I wanted my due process and my justice, which I think I got tonight, in terms of a fair judicial procedure,” she said.

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