About a month after taking office, the newly elected Undergraduate Student Government administration has been accused by a former USG member of unconstitutionally passing a resolution.
Former USG Chief Justice and fourth-year in engineering physics Tyler Byrum has filed a plaintiff brief against USG President Celia Wright and Vice President Leah Lacure for “unconstitutionally” passing a resolution that confirmed senior staff appointments.
According to the brief, which was obtained by The Lantern, the legislation recommending senior staff appointments claimed to have originated in the Oversight Committee, as required by the USG Constitution.
However, the brief states the resolution was passed before members of the Oversight Committee were appointed, making its passing unconstitutional.
According to USG bylaws, the Oversight Committee should be comprised of 12 elected members of the General Assembly chosen at the first meeting of the General Assembly.
The first meeting of the newly elected USG General Assembly was held April 2.
A copy of the General Assembly’s first meeting slideshow that was obtained by The Lantern said members of the Oversight Committee were to be chosen at the second General Assembly meeting April 9.
According to the April 9 meeting minutes posted on USG’s website, the Oversight Committee was never elected during this meeting, but the resolution appointing senior staff was still passed.
Meeting minutes for the April 2 meeting were not posted online as of Tuesday afternoon.
USG secretary and first-year in strategic communication Erin Henry said she doesn’t have meeting minutes for the April 2 meeting because she had not yet been elected secretary when the meeting took place.
“Currently the website is being renovated and that, in the absence of an elected secretary at that meeting, minutes were taken by the parliamentarian pro tempore who is not available to send them right now,” Henry said in an email to The Lantern.
Henry did not provide the name of the parliamentarian pro tempore by Tuesday.
Celia Wright referred The Lantern to USG spokesman and second-year in public affairs Connor Hooper for comment.
Hooper said Wright and Lacure believed the passing of the resolution was constitutional because of the parliamentarian’s vote to pass the resolution at the April 9 meeting.
According to USG bylaws, the parliamentarian presides over the Oversight Committee, where, according to the USG Constitution, legislation proposing senior staff appointments must originate.
“In the absence of an Oversight Committee, the parliamentarian of the General Assembly who regulates membership acts as the head of the Oversight Committee, and in our opinion can act as it,” Hooper said.
The General Assembly elected Miranda Onnen, a third-year in economics and political science, to serve as parliamentarian during the April 9 meeting.
“Miranda as the head of the Oversight Committee, and the General Assembly consisting of all of the potential members of the Oversight Committee, were all present at that point so it was in our opinion that anybody that would have been on the Oversight Committee to make suggestions or have issues would be able to have voiced them,” Hooper said.
Byrum, the plaintiff, said he doesn’t agree that the Oversight Committee can exist with only one member, and therefore, it cannot constitutionally pass legislation.
“Because they hadn’t taken care of appointing senators to the Oversight Committee, the committee effectively didn’t exist and therefore, by approving that legislation, it was unconstitutional,” Byrum said.
According to the brief, Byrum requested the judicial panel declare the senior staff appointments “null and void,” and urged the panel to order Wright and Lacure reissue the resolution in front of a full Oversight Committee.
Because of the apparent conflict caused by passing the resolution without the presence of a full Oversight Committee, the administration will reintroduce the resolution at the beginning of the next academic year after a full Oversight Committee is formed, Hooper said.
“The members of senior staff will remain in their positions until the start of the next academic year (Fall Semester 2014) when a resolution to confirm will be presented again,” Hooper said. “As of this moment, the make-up of the senior staff will be the same as when previously presented and likely will throughout Celia and Leah’s terms, but there is always a slight possibility for change.”
Hooper said as of Sunday night, the administration had not been informed of when the case will be heard before the judicial panel.
The judicial panel consists of a clerk of courts with eight judges and a chief justice.
Current Chief Justice Brandon Cruz did not respond to emails requesting comment on when the case will be heard by Tuesday afternoon.
Onnen said in an email she voted for the resolution because she thought the candidates submitted for the senior staff positions were strong and would do good work representing student interests.
She also said she thought the passing of the resolution was constitutional.
“Pursuant to clauses II C and II B 3 e of the USG Constitution, my interpretation was that if the president introduced executive appointment legislation and I approved it as parliamentarian, it was constitutional to vote on it at that time,” Onnen said.
Jake Severson, a third-year in human development and family science and a member of the General Assembly who voted for the resolution’s passing, said in an email he believes the passing of the resolution was constitutional because he trusts Wright’s and Lacure’s judgment.
“Being new to USG, I have still not fully grasped the inside outs of legislative procedure,” Severson said. “I think that while having read the constitution has given me some insight, it takes experience in the legislative process in order be able to interpret and understand many of its clauses, especially ones where definite lines are not always drawn. This being said I know Celia, Leah and our parliamentarian Miranda are experienced and well-versed in these procedures, and because of this I believe that their interpretation of the parliamentarian being able to pass resolutions is both correct and constitutional.”
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