Board looks to make changes, propose Student Governing Code

Board+looks+to+make+changes%2C+propose+Student+Governing+Code

The Student Government Board has lost important documents throughout the past four years because the Board hasn’t had anywhere to put them.

But now, SGB President Mike Nites is proposing a remedy to the problem through the establishment of a “Student Governing Code,” which would compile the Board’s policies and procedures into one document available on its website.

The Board met in the William Pitt Union Ballroom at 8:45 p.m Tuesday to introduce eight bills, which dictate the contents of the code, and will vote on the bills next week. The Board also unanimously voted to institute an official code of ethics, to repeal the previous Board’s media policy and to publicly decide its budget in the future. About 15 people attended the 45-minute meeting. 

While the Board will not officially vote on the Student Governing Code until next week, Nites said the code will outline SGB policies that were previously undefined or undocumented

The Board will also adopt its bylaws into the proposed Student Governing Code, which will be separated into six sections labeled “chapters.” The chapters will include information on the president, the Board, committees, Green Fund Advisory Board, legislation and other governing documents.

Nites said important documents are lost from year to year because they are not included in the bylaws. 

While the Board already documented its code of ethics, Board members were not required to follow it. 

Because the code is now mandatory, the judicial committee will penalize Board members if they break the code by, for example, voting on an allocations request for a student organization in which they hold membership. Nites said the punishments will vary in severity, from issued warnings to a dismissal from the Board. 

In addition to instituting their own policies, the Board voted to repeal a policy of the previous Board. 

The former Board enacted a media policy last April and sent The Pitt News and WPTS Radio a set of media guidelines after both organizations separately reported that six of nine SGB members were part of a secret society known as the Druids. The Board did not issue the guidelines to other news organizations, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and The Pittsburgh Tribune.

Former president Gordon Louderback said before the meeting that the issues that led to the policy no longer exist, and he would not comment on whether the Druid stories sparked the policies.

Under the media policy, the Board required that reporters check in with the Board’s secretary upon arrival to the office and then receive an invitation into the office by the Board member the reporter wanted to interview. The policy also established an “open door/open area policy,” which prohibited SGB affiliates from holding closed-door meetings with reporters in the Board’s office. 

The Pitt News refused to comply with the policy, and the Board did not actively enforce the guidelines the following semester. 

The bill repealing the media guidelines allows the Board “to remain open and welcoming to the student body …regardless of their affiliation with the media.” 

Nites added that the Board intends to treat all students equally through the new bill.

“We let 17,000 other students come freely into our office,” Nites said. “If there is [a student] at the front desk, we don’t ask them to wait at the desk until [the Board member] is ready for them,” Nites said. “Why should 20 students or 30 students within the Pitt News, who might have any opportunity to be involved with SGB, be treated different?”

Nites said if reporters are disruptively “hanging around the office” while the Board is discussing private matters, the Board would meet privately with the members of the news organization to discuss the conflict.

Board member Graeme Meyer said the Board discussed replacing the media policy with an office-wide policy that required visitors to sign in, which would help keep track of visitors during office hours. The Board did not further discuss the matter.

In an effort to increase transparency, the Board also voted to publicly decide on its budget. 

Previously, the Board privately submitted its budget to the Allocations Committee. The committee recommends how the Board should spend the $2.3 million Student Activities Fund to which every non-College of General Studies student contributes $80 each semester. 

According to Alex Majchrzak, former Allocations Committee chair, the committee traditionally denied a portion of the Board’s budget if the requests did not adequately document how or when the Board would spend the money. But the Board could appeal the decision and receive the full amount. 

During his campaign, Nites promised to increase transparency within student government and proposed that the Board publicly vote on the budget. His slate mates, Brandon Benjamin and Sara Klein, supported the idea. Klein discussed voting on the budget publicly during a November 2013 debate between candidates running for the 2014 Board.

Once the Board reviews student organizations’ appeals to their budget requests, it will defend its own budget requests at a public meeting. Student organizations must submit their semesterly budgets, or requests for money from the Student Activities Fund, for next semester by March.

The allocations chair will then present the committee’s rationale for each of the Board’s appealed requests, and the business manager will defend the requests before the Board makes a decision.

While the Board will still have the ultimate say on the appealed requests, Nites said making the process public is “a step in the right direction” toward transparency.

Majchrzak said that students should have access to the budget to offer criticism. 

Nites said he will post a copy of the SGB budget on the Board’s website after it is adopted, which will allow students to comment with opinions on the budget and the Board.

In addition to the three votes, the Board also appointed Board members Ellie Tsatsos to president pro tempore and Abby Zurschmit to business manager, and appointed ten students to the Allocations Committee. 

Keeping with tradition, Nites nominated Tsatsos to president pro tempore because she received the highest number of votes between the Board members. The president pro tempore would act as president if Nites would be unable to attend a meeting or fulfill his term. 

Nites said he chose to nominate Zurschmit to business manager after working with her the previous year, when she was the chair of the Safety and Transportation Committee. The business manager constructs the Board’s budget, acts as liason to the Allocations Committee and works more directly with the allocations chair on requests.  

“She was always on the ball with everything,” Nites said.