By Daniel Scarpinato
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday October 23, 2002
Student body president Doug Hartz's decision made over the summer to limit his delegates' voting privileges at statewide meetings did not violate the Arizona Students' Association's bylaws, its director said yesterday.
Following the resignation of student lobbyist Jenny Rimsza last Friday, the ASA headquarters examined its bylaws and found that, while Hartz is not granted power over delegates' votes, there is no specific protection of individual votes.
As a result, Hartz's authority as chief director of the UA branch of ASA, granted to him through the student government constitution, allows him to control his appointees' votes.
The issue arose in the ASA central office after Rimsza, a relatively experienced student lobbyist, resigned, claiming Hartz had restricted her voting privileges.
Hartz argued that by requiring directors to either vote with him or abstain from voting on issues deemed "detrimental to the university," he was presenting a cohesive front at meetings and protecting the best interests of students.
Student lobbyists have significant influence in setting the pace on issues like tuition increases.
Maceo Brown, statewide director of ASA, which lobbies in Phoenix on behalf of students, said that the organization will continue to look into the power a student body president has over ASA delegate votes.
He said from his experience in ASA, he personally values the individual vote of a delegate and wants to see it protected.
That's why last year Brown presented a motion, which was eventually tabled, that would have given student lobbyists a form of tenure. Right now, student lobbyists have one-year appointments now. After being appointed by a student body president and serving several months, the only way that a lobbyist could be fired is by a majority vote of the delegates from all three Arizona universities, under Brown's plan. They could also resign.
If that motion had been passed, the ASA bylaws would have overpowered that of the individual universities.
"Our bylaws you can think of as the United States Constitution," Brown said. "We have the ASA bylaws; below that is ASUA constitution and the constitutions of the other universities."
Brown said he still favors that plan and would like to see it resurrected.
"In the past, student body presidents have dismissed directors from their positions if something did not go their way," he said.
In addition, the plan would lessen the turnover in ASA, since most delegates only stay around for one year and fail to gain a historical perspective on student issues, he said.
But Hartz said that rule would weaken the accountability placed on directors, who are appointed by student government officials, not elected into office.
"I think that's a dangerous road to walk, to take power from students in that fashion," he said.
Wes McCalley, NAU's student body president, said that his delegates have "the choice to vote as they see fit."
"I don't force my delegates to vote a certain way," he said.
Nevertheless, McCalley agreed with Hartz that the motion to create a tenure system would be flawed.
"The power should be left in the student body president's hands," he said.
McCalley said that because of ASU's bylaws, he could control delegate votes just as Hartz plans to, but has chosen not to.
Michael Leingang, ASU's student body president, works under a different set of rules.
Leingang can only appoint two directors to ASA, since one is appointed by his student senate. In addition, his directors also serve as government relations vice presidents.
If Leingang wanted to take one of them out of office, a senator would have to bring up the motion and have it approved by the senate, he said.
He said that he allows his directors to vote on their own accord, although he sits down with them just like Hartz and McCalley do prior to delegate meetings.
Ben Graff, the 2000-2001 UA student body president, said he disagrees with Hartz's policy change, adding that "it's something that has not been done before, to my knowledge. That's why Jenny would be against it."
"One of the most important things (for Hartz) is to have a confident staff that disagrees with him," he said.
Graff agreed that directors need to be prepared for delegate meetings, but did not believe Hartz's policy is the only way of accomplishing that.
"I've never told anyone how to vote," he said. "The best interest of the student body is protected by hiring a diverse staff and having diverse opinions."
Kelly Dalton is now a lobbyist in Washington, D.C., but for three-and-a-half years she was involved in student government at the UA.
She said difference of opinion is what ASA is all about.
"One of the reason directors are hired to fill this position is that directors bring their opinions to the table," she said. "That's an advantage that every student body president has."
Brown said that had Rimsza reported to him the problems she was having with Hartz's new policy, he would have tried to work them out.
The first he heard of Hartz's policy was after Rimsza's resignation, he said.
Hartz has said that Rimsza never complained to him about the change in policy either.
"The loss of Jenny is huge," Brown said. "She was one of our board of directors that had an historical perspective. She was instrumental in a variety of ways. Now we have to fill her shoes."
Earlier this week, Rimsza speculated on her future involvement in student government. She said she has not ruled out a run for president, but has questioned whether the organization is the best place for her.
"It makes me think, could I be more useful elsewhere?" she said.
As of yesterday afternoon, Hartz and Brown had not yet spoken, but Brown said he planned on having dialogue with Hartz on the issue.
"There's definitely going to be some lengthy discussion," he said.