Shake-up in the GA, senior members quit
Speaker ousted and GA plots new course
When Gordon Simonett, a relatively junior General Assembly member representing the Class of 2004, left the GA meeting Friday night, he didn't imagine that the next time he would take those steps he would be leaving as the body's most senior member. But after a week that began with the expulsion of one GA member and that resulted in the resignations under fire of most of the group's leadership, the GA has in Simonett's words "thrown out experience and brought in ideas."
The reorganization within the GA, AU's student government legislature, can be described as nothing less than a revolution. With control over the funds given to offices ranging from the Student Advocacy Center to the Kennedy Political Union, Student Union Board to Eagle Nights and more, the past week's changes will have consequences. In less than a week the body, made up mainly of new members who have attended only one or two meetings, has forced through new governing documents, known as bylaws, held a special session that attracted over 50 spectators, and ousted former Speaker Zachary Constantino and several of his supporters.
The week's drama began last week when a committee inside the GA decided to expel member Will Mount for an earlier violation of the body's rules. A number of GA members wanted to overturn that decision in the full GA, a possibility which Constantino and Parliamentarian Mike Berg effectively killed. The GA members present at the group's meeting last Sunday were unable to overturn Mount's expulsion and walked out of the meeting in protest, followed by Constantino who threatened to have them all suspended. Those members then spent several days preparing for a nearly five-hour special session they called for 11 p.m. last Wednesday night where they hoped to hold a vote of no confidence on Constantino. Such a measure, used in order to remove a group's presiding officer, needed the approval of 75 percent of the GA's members. When it became clear that the group was just shy of the votes needed, the proposed revision of the bylaws - which only required 64 percent - included a change in the number of votes required to remove Constantino. This change made Constantino's removal inevitable, prompting him to resign before he could be removed.
The bill did not explicitly force the resignations that followed; instead, its passage demonstrated the majority's lack of confidence in Constantino and his supporters, some of whom had been marked for later removal themselves.
"The bill was the catalyst that caused the resignations ... but when the bill passed some decided that this [new GA] wasn't for them," said member Mike Pollock (Class of 2004), one of the bill's two sponsors.
Aside from Constantino's resignation, Berg and members Brad Vasoli (Class of 2004) and Nicholas Thorpe (College of Arts and Sciences) also resigned. The resignations marked the departure of the group's more conservative members, as Constantino and Vasoli were long known for their opposition to many Student Confederation programming and policy initiatives for ideological reasons. Simonett and his closest competitor for the speaker's role, Richard Bradbury (Class of 2006), are more liberal.
Thorpe began the parade of departures after saying that he has always felt that the GA shouldn't interfere with a member's personal life, but that because his continued involvement was bringing unneeded stress to his life, he felt it was time to go.
Berg announced his resignation in a speech that accused Constantino's "political enemies" of "power plays" and backroom shady-dealing, but as of yesterday's meeting seems to have withdrawn his resignation until Simonett appoints a successor.
Describing the GA as a "sinking ship, a ship I wish to jump off before it hits rock bottom," Vasoli argued that the new members had no respect for the experience and seniority that he and the other senior members brought to the table. With nobody in the new group "capable of leading ... the GA as a deliberative body is dead," he said before marching into the hallway where he stood, peering inside for another hour.
The last of the resignations, Constantino condemned the new members for disrespecting him, his supporters and the existing process. He also criticized the few remaining senior members who were in league with the junior ones, hopeful he said of obtaining more seniority. Constantino left the room, followed by a half-dozen of his supporters, to the standing ovation that is customary when a leader leaves office. But this time, the applause dripped with defiance and continued long after he had left the room.
The resignations created vacancies in an already sparsely filled body intended to serve as the students' representatives to the University. Composed of 38 seats intended to represent AU's undergraduate classes, residence halls, schools and colleges, as of yesterday only 23 of the 38 seats are taken, and more than a few of its members were not elected in contested races.
But despite all of the late-night meetings and drama AU's student legislators experienced this week, the new leadership and the many freshman and sophomore members who elected it see this as a necessary turning point for the GA.
For Simonett, the point is to make the process of allocating student funds more open.
"I want to bring more people into the process. A lot of people do not know what goes on in our GA meetings ... A lot of people don't know about the legislation we pass and how that affects them," he said. "You have a right to know how your money is being spent ... You have to have the confidence that we're doing what you want done."
Freshman Mark Anderson, who represents Anderson Hall, noted at Wednesday's meeting that recent events showed that the GA was a largely irrelevant group.
"Do you ever wonder why every time they talk about us [the GA] in The Eagle, they have to explain what we are?" Anderson said. "We can change that, and this is a first step to making that happen"