Board appointment raises questions

By Todd Hardy
Arizona Daily Wildcat
October 2, 1996

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Erin Russell, Associated Students vice president for clubs and organizations, appointed her brother to the ASUA Appropriations Board. Some believe his selection was unfair.


The former vice chairman of the ASUA Appropriations Board has said the current vice president for clubs and organizations did not choose the most qualified candidate when she appointed her brother to the board a month ago.

In a Sept. 4 Undergraduate Senate meeting, Brian Russell, a molecular and cellular biology sophomore, was approved as one of seven members of the Associated Students Appropriations Board, a committee in charge of allocating funds to ASUA-recognized clubs.

Russell is the younger brother of Erin Russell, vice president for clubs and organizations, whose duties include making appointments and acting as chairman of the Appropriations Board.

In an interview via electronic mail, Will Kuhn, the 1995-96 vice chairman of the Appropriations Board and a member of Erin Russell's selection panel, said Brian Russell lacked the experience in campus-related activities to make him a serious candidate.

Erin Russell said she formed a four-member selection panel last spring to help her make the appointments. After following a set procedure, the committee ranked Brian Russell among the top seven candidates for the board, she explained.

"It would have been unfair not to appoint him," she said.

However, Kuhn said Brian Russell was far from being one of the seven most qualified candidates.

"My recollection of Mr. Russell's application was that his participation in any campus-related activity was nearly nonexistent. Given the number of clubs on campus, it is beyond conception that he couldn't find something to be active in," Kuhn said.

"A position on the Appropriations Board, with all of the funding responsibilities that go along with it, should be given to people who have demonstrated a commitment to involvement in the campus community, not to those who will become involved if given a position."

Brian Russell said although he has no formal experience with ASUA, he did not receive preferential treatment in his appointment to the board.

"My sister appointed me because it was in the best interest of ASUA," he said.

David Leach, a political science junior who applied but was rejected for a position on the board, said he thinks the appointment of Brian Russell was unfair.

"I am not saying I was the most qualified applicant, but I am definitely more qualified than Brian Russell," he said

Leach said past involvement with ASUA clubs and his experience as an intern for Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., made him a very qualified candidate.

Undergraduate Sen. J.J. Rico, a member of the selection panel, also said he did not initially consider Brian Russell as one of the most qualified applicants.

"I thought maybe there could be a conflict of interest because he is Erin's brother," he said.

Rico said he eventually approved the appointment because Erin Russell was very fair, and "took a step back" during the interview and appointment of her brother.

Undergraduate Sen. Maile Weigele said the Senate was concerned about a possible conflict of interest when it met to approve the appointees for Appropriations Board.

Weigele said the concerns of the Senate were alleviated when Erin Russell spoke on behalf of her brother, saying he was familiar with the system and had many good ideas.

"We now recognize that Brian is doing a fine job," Weigele added.

But Kuhn said the appointment of Brian Russell shows a serious problem with the nature of the interview process for the Appropriations Board.

"The fact that Erin Russell was the incoming vice president for clubs and organizations leads to an appearance of impropriety. How else could the selection of such an obviously unqualified individual be justified?" Kuhn said.

Erin Russell said she understands how people may suspect a conflict of interest, but said, "anyone who knows my brother and I well wouldn't believe that I would appoint him."

She said she consulted Jim Drnek, ASUA's adviser and an assistant dean of students, to make sure that the appointment of her brother did not violate ASUA bylaws.

The ASUA constitution does not mention the appointment of family members, however, according to Arizona Revised Statutes, officers of the universities cannot "appoint or vote for the appointment of any person related to him by affinity or consanguinity within the third degree ... when the wages or compensation of such appointee is to be paid from public funds or fees of such office."

A seat on the Appropriations Board is not a paid position, however, members are given three units of university credit for their participation.

Susan Ferrell, ASUA legal services adviser, said because ASUA is part of the university, an argument could be made that student officers are officers of the university, however, she believes the law is not intended for student officials.

"The real issue is whether or not it is a good idea, as opposed to whether it is legal," she said.

Ferrell said the appointment of a family member could be damaging to public perception and to morale within the organization.