The Parthenon

Filed under COLUMN, OPINION

Jo Tremmel: SGA House of Representatives executive committee was not a compromise

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In the October 24th edition of the Parthenon, the ongoing debate over the House of Representatives was discussed by both the Parthenon and in a piece by Student Body President Hunter Barclay. The idea of the House of Representatives was first pitched to me during Week of Welcome this semester in a private meeting in President Barclay’s office with myself, Hunter, and Vice President Hannah Petracca. I was interested in the idea; this interest was more of curiosity rather than an interest in wanting it to be implemented immediately. A similar system to the one proposed had been in place in the past here at Marshall and had been dissolved due to problems. I was interested in how Hunter and Hannah planned on reviving the system again without the same problems that had plagued the system in the past.

However, this is not a critique on the House. Rather, it is a critique on the way that the House of Representatives and Senate’s response to it has been presented to the student body and the Barclay administration’s response to Senate feedback. The title of the most recent piece on the SGA meeting was “SGA compromises on House of Representatives proposal”. There was no compromise. Saying that it was a compromise would imply that there had been communication about the outcome. Senate first heard about the changes to the plan of implementation of the House of Representatives during the Senate meeting. This is evidenced by the fact that there were so many questions from the Senators for clarification about what was happening. The main picture that accompanies the article shows our Senate President Pro-Tempore, Noelle Soares, raising her hand in question.

Concerning the criticism of Concerns of the Student Body being one of the last line items in each Senate meeting, this was the first time that the Senate had heard concerns from President Barclay about it being at the end of the meetings. Should they want to suggest that it be moved more forward in the agenda, a simple conversation with the Pro-Tempore could have it done. This, however, would need an open dialogue between Noelle Soares and the Executive Branch. Noelle has been asked to slide bills funding student organizations on campus under Hunter’s door. In addition to this, regular conversations between the two have been avoided after Noelle brought concerns regarding overreach of power from the Executive Branch to Barclay and Petracca. The outcome of bringing these concerns was the Senate being addressed each week by Vice President Petracca about “he said, she said”. Rather than these concerns being a learning point for the current administration, they have been taken as personal affronts and shrugged off.

As far as the concern from President Barclay of a committee of Senators editing the governing documents of the House, it confuses me to no end. President Barclay initially asked the Judiciary Committee, over which I preside, to review the House documents. Hunter has complimented the Senate and myself multiple times over the revision of the Constitution last year. He has praised the expertise of the Senate in our eye for detail in governing documents, even down to the commas. The past few years of Senate have shown the acumen of reviewing documents and drafting legislation. Hunter and Hannah have privately spoken to me about my own philosophy of being neutral in governing matters and giving direct answers to governing questions without bias. In the entire time of discussion of the House, there have been zero alternate suggestions of people to review or revise the House documents. It seems as if when President Barclay asked the Judiciary committee and Senate to provide suggestions and revisions to the House documents, he forgot that all of those people were Senators. In refusing to form a committee similar to those formed to revise the SGA Constitution and Bylaws, President Barclay is doing a disservice to the students that would be governed by the documents that (as of now, to the best of my knowledge) have only had oversight of himself and Vice President Petracca as well as disregarding the skill set of all of those currently in Senate.

Because of the balance of power inherent in governing bodies of this country, it is the Senate’s duty and within their enumerated powers to have say in and edit the suggested documents. In order for the House to have been implemented, the resolution doing so would have to be sponsored by a sitting Senator and go through committee. The original intent of the Barclay administration was to “go around Senate” in order to enact the proposed House because, according to Vice President Hannah Petracca, there was a concern that Senate would change parts of their “vision”, as any balancing governing body has the right to do in a democratic society.

When the executive session was held a few weeks ago, Vice President Petracca was calling and texting multiple people at 11 PM in order to attempt to override the Senate’s right to expel any non-Senator from an executive session. Senate is able to hold a vote to expel even the Student Body Vice President (who acts as president of the Senate); rather than have Senate hold a vote to expel her, Vice President Petracca willingly left the room for Senate’s executive session but continued to voice concerns about not being there.

The governing documents state that Senate is required to release a statement about what occurred during the executive session to the student body. President Barclay stated that by Senate doing this (and following proper procedure), it reflected poorly upon the administration. It frequently seems to escape the notice of the Executive Branch that it is separate from the Legislative Branch and that each has a certain level of separate operational autonomy.

Throughout the entire process of the House of Representatives, President Barclay and Vice President Petracca have acted as though Senate is an undue burden on their plans. In reality, a large majority of those in Senate have more experience than Hunter and Hannah in Student Government and with the procedures that must be followed. When experienced Senators such as myself and Pro-Tempore Soares have informed President Barclay and Vice President Petracca of concerns of both ourselves and other Senators, we are accused of disrespecting their authority and painted as being unnecessarily obstructive. With President Barclay still touting SGA as broken even after his Vice President retracted previous statements made on the campaign trail and during debates, perhaps it is time to participate in some self reflection and to realize that governing and representation is difficult; without help, support, and communication it is impossible. A key to any leadership position is communication, and this administration is severely lacking in this central and critical aspect.

Jo Tremmel serves as  Student Government Association Parliamentarian, Chair of the Judiciary Committee and a College of Science Senator. She can be contacted at [email protected]

*Editor’s Note: This article was updated from the original posted version. A shorter version was previously posted online and in the print edition. 

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