UPDATE: 11:30pm, Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013; Kareem Aref has further clarified the circumstances surrounding the events at UCSA’s summer congress.
UPDATE: 5:30pm, Friday, Sept. 27, 2013; Vanessa Garcia has submitted an official statement to the California Review regarding this incident. This statement was originally given to the A.S. Council.
UPDATE: 4:00pm, Friday, Sept. 27, 2013; we have received a reply from UCSA President Kareem Aref, who has clarified some of the details of UCSA regulations and the events at the UCSA congress this summer.
by Alexander Kreedman and Joshua Marxen
Last Saturday, the President of Associated Students Andy Buselt organized a “special meeting” for the Associated Students to discuss a resolution calling for the resignation of Vice President of External Affairs, Vanessa Garcia. On the surface, Garcia was guilty of improperly assigning members to a UCSA officer election ballot. However, when we dug deeper, we found that the politics behind the resolution were much more complicated – and a disheartening indicator of AS’s lopsided priorities and poor transparency.
Here’s what happened: Over the summer, the members of the Office of External Affairs attended a series of meetings with the UC Student Association (UCSA) – the inter-campus body of student representatives from each UC campus – at which elections were held to determine the UCSA executive staff. The UCSA by-laws specify that there are only three members of the External Affairs office who can run for positions: the Campus Organizational Director (Bruno Huizar), the Legislative Liason (LL) (Brianna Nelson), and the VP of External Affairs (Vanessa Garcia). The VP External is the only of these members who can vote. (See note C1 at the bottom.) However, Garcia submitted forms to UCSA showing Raquel Morales, the Legislative Advisor (LA), as the Legislative Liaison. As a result, Nelson was wrongfully prevented from participating in the vote, and Morales was wrongfully allowed to run for a UCSA position. Since the LL is appointed with the consent of the Council, UCSD’s AS lost representation during that vote.
The question is, was this a willful circumvention of Council authority, or an honest misunderstanding of the rules by the new VP External Garcia? In a letter addressed to the Council, Garcia explains that she believed that both the LL and the LA were eligible to vote and run for office in UCSA elections. She claims she believed that the forms she submitted were only to list members who wanted to run for office, and that the fact that Nelson was not on the form would not prevent her from voting. She claims these confusions resulted from some rule changes that resulted from UCSA’s becoming a 501(c)(3) organization this year. UCSA President Kareem Aref informs us that while the rules concerning who can run for an officer position have not changed, these rules have not been enforced in the past, but must now be enforced since UCSA is now a 501(c)(3) organization. (See note C2.) According to council member J.D.*, Garcia had consulted Nelson beforehand, asking whether she wished to run for an AS position. Nelson declined, so Garcia put Morales on the form instead. It was only when Nelson was asked to leave the UCSA congress during a closed session that they realized that there had been a mistake. According to Aref, since the ballot had been posted for the previous days of the congress, UCSD’s representatives could not agree on who had power to interpret their by-laws, the issue was dropped, and no changes were made to the ballot (See note C3.)
It should also be noted that the forms submitted were verified by AS Director of Administration Heather Belk. If this was not a mistake, Heather Belk should also be held accountable for failing to check the validity of the staff assignments. We are looking into this matter now. (See note C4.)
A California Review reporter attended the “special meeting” last Saturday, but was only allowed to attend the portion of the meeting occurring before the resolution was discussed. During the public input, Nelson, surprisingly, spoke out against the resolution, even though she had expressed frustration with Garcia after having been prevented from voting. Nelson criticized the council for failure to communicate, and for jumping to impeachment as the first response to the incident.
After that, AS went into an “executive session,” and kicked out the remaining members of the public (all but our reporter had already left). Were it not for J.D.*, who approached us afterwards, we would not have known what became of that resolution, or some of the underlying complexities of this issue.
In J.D.’s* opinion, the occasion was inappropriate for an executive session. The AS constitution does provide for such private sessions for resolving “personnel issues,” (Section 8: Meetings) which clearly was the issue at hand; but, according to J.D.*, since the resolution had been distributed via the public AS listserv, it was inappropriate to exclude the public from Council’s deliberation on an issue that had already been made public. The legitimacy of these private executive sessions themselves also deserves scrutiny, but that is another debate.
J.D.* also described how those in charge of drafting the resolution, including president Andy Buselt, declined Garcia’s invitations to speak about the issue beforehand, and sprung the resolution and the special meeting on the Council before any dialogue had occurred between Garcia and the president. J.D.* speculates that the fact that the Council went into executive session (which has happened only a handful of times in the last 3 years), as well as the time and date of the meeting (Saturday, 11am on move-in day), were decisions made to keep students from attending. Indeed, the only “members of the public” present at the meeting were former council members decrying AS for a lack of transparency and the California Review reporter.
J.D.* alleges that the issue ultimately boils down to Slate politics. Members of Keep it Real, who authored the resolution, were looking for any reason they could find to remove Garcia, a member of Triton’s Choice, from her position as VP External. J.D.* says that this is not the first incident of this kind of behavior – many executives from other slates, not just Triton’s Choice, have been targeted for punitive action.
The resolution was neither passed nor tabled at the executive session. The meeting went on until 4pm, at which time Price Center closed and the members of AS were required to leave. California Review reporters are currently seeking interviews with the relevant parties on both sides of the debate and will continue to follow this story as more information becomes available.
It seems obvious that Garcia made a clerical error which cost AS part of it’s fair representation at UCSA. It is not obvious, however, that this error was intentional or malicious, or that resignation from her position is the appropriate response. And it is definitely not obvious why this issue should take precedence over more immediate issues students care about – transportation, the removal of Graffiti Hall, and the inauspicious appointment of Janet Napolitano as UC president.
* name changed: the council member wished to remain anonymous.
C1: The original passage:
“The UCSA by-laws specify that there are only three members of the External Affairs office who can vote or run for positions: the Campus Organizational Director (Bruno Huizar), the Legislative Liason (LL) (Brianna Nelson), and the VP of External Affairs (Vanessa Garcia).”
C2: The original passage:
“These changes include a new stipulation that any given school may only have one LL, whereas in the past multiple would have been permitted.”
C3: The original passage:
“It was only when Nelson was asked to leave the UCSA congress during votes that they realized that there had been a mistake.”
Nelson was allowed to stay for the vote.
C4: The original passage:
“If this was not a mistake, it was an extremely elaborate and coordinated effort to get Morales on the ballot when she should not have been, involving conspirators in the administration and at UCSA.”
UCSA President Kareem Aref clarifies that “UCSA has no authority over who is on the representation forms… If the EVPs signature and the correct overseeing signature are on the forms, UCSA takes the form as valid.“