By Jaden DeFazio
After consulting with Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) legal advisors, KU’s Student Government Board has decided to continue voting to remove members by secret ballot – despite the fact that state law states government agencies are to conduct votes in public.
According to Matt Assad, Financial Advisor to Student Government Board and a former SGB member, this decision was made within a week after it was brought to the board’s attention on Oct. 17 that their use of secret ballot voting was not in accordance with Pennsylvania’s Open Meetings Law, or Sunshine Act.
Assad said the Open Meetings Law does not apply to the board because they do not, according to PASSHE legal counsel, fit the law’s definition of an agency and do not receive any state funding. The law would only apply to KU’s Board of Trustees, which does receive state funding, he said.
The board is elected by students and has a budget of $17,500, which is increasing to $18,000 for the spring 2018 semester. The budget comes from the student activity fee, which is increasing from $141 per student to $154.19.
According to Molly Gallagher, senior and President of Student Government Board, the board uses secret ballot to vote on matters such as removing members and appointing executive board members. She said that the board has been voting in this manner for as long as she has been on the board.
The law requires that government agencies that exercise government authority and take official action cast all votes publicly, and the votes of members must be recorded.
However, Nathan Byerly, deputy director of Pennsylvania’s Office of Open Records, agreed the law does not apply to the SGB because it is more directed at government organizations, and the board is too far removed from state government for the law to apply.
“It’s important for students to know that we are following Robert’s Rules and we aren’t just winging it,” said Gallagher, referring to Robert’s Rules of Order, which are commonly accepted guidelines for conducting meetings but are not law.
Questions about the board’s secret-ballot voting arose at the SGB’s Oct. 17 meeting. At said meeting, KU senior Julie DiPiazza asked the board if they were aware that voting by secret ballot was not in accordance with the PA Open Meetings Law; she asked while the board was voting whether to keep KU sophomore Amanda Meck on the board after she had exceeded the amount of absences allowed. At the meeting, DiPiazza, a student journalist, was told that the board was not aware of the law and would look into it.
Gallagher said she was also not aware of the law and hadn’t heard of it until it was brought up at the meeting. The board has always acted in accordance to Robert’s Rules of Order, she said, and training for new members on how meetings are run focuses on these rules.
When asked about whether there was a possibility of the board changing its rules to follow the Open Meetings Law, Gallagher said there was a possibility, if a future executive board voted to make that change. She, however, said she prefers the current method of voting, saying that it encourages members to vote honestly, without fear of making things awkward between members, and helps the board to remain cohesive.
“At the end of the day, we are a student organization,” Gallagher said.
As of right now, Assad said, there are no plans to change how the board conducts meetings in the future.