USUAA president vetoes referendum

The veto of a referendum regarding a proposed fee increase for the UAA Concert Board caused a stir following USUAA’s March 11 meeting. The referendum, sponsored by Concert Board member and USUAA senator Jonathan Wilcox, seeks to increase the board’s student fee from $5 to $7 per semester. If approved by the students in the upcoming election, the fee increase would go into effect in Spring 2006.

The USUAA assembly voted 8-to-1 in favor of placing the referendum on the spring 2005 ballot. Two senators abstained from the vote. USUAA elections will take place April 19-20.

But USUAA president Chris Hall vetoed the referendum, leaving its future in doubt. The assembly can override Hall’s veto with a two-thirds majority vote at the March 18 meeting.

In the meantime, Concert Board president Loki Tobin is upset Hall stalled the referendum.

“As concert board chair, I’m frustrated that he took away the opportunity for students to vote on something that should be a student decision. As a student and constituent of his, I think it’s ridiculous that he took away my opportunity to voice my opinion,” Tobin said. “He basically told his senators that their opinion doesn’t matter.”

Hall has never used his veto power before stopping the Concert Board referendum. He said he thought long and hard before using the veto.

“I felt that the referendum was bad all around. Not all the information was being presented,” Hall said. “The bottom line for me, and the reason I vetoed it, was that there are a lot of questions about their finances and what they do with their money. Students I talked to questioned how much they do.

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“I don’t see what the rush is to pass another fee onto the students. I just couldn’t allow this to go through with my signature on it because I didn’t feel comfortable with it.”

The referendum was originally presented March 4 but was tabled so all parties could get student input and also so Concert Board could present a soft ledger showing its 2004-2005 expenditures. The board and the assembly returned with student feedback a week later but a ledger was not presented at the meeting prior to the vote and Hall’s veto.

USUAA vice president Michael Blanton said he respects Tobin as a strong leader at UAA and is in favor of the referendum. But he said the board should have brought the ledger to the meeting.

“I think they did themselves a big disservice by being unprepared to face the assembly,” Blanton said.

Senator Sarah Mahan, who made the motion to table the bill March 4, abstained from the voting citing a lack of budget information. Mahan thinks USUAA needs to put a clearer referendum in front of the students and hopes Concert Board will aid that process.

“I’m totally for it but I think it needs to be revised. We were able to talk to our constituents but we didn’t get a copy of the soft ledger,” she said. “In the end, it’s for the students to decide. As long there is enough information for the students to make an informed decision, I’ll vote for it.”

Tobin said the justification for the fee increase is to cover the salary of a program coordinator, a position the board created and has tried to fill the past two years. Currently, Annie Route handles all the booking of acts including contracts, travel and hotel accommodations. But Route’s official role as director of Campus Life doesn’t allow her to focus on Concert Board’s needs.

Tobin said the board feels handcuffed by its lack of booking power.

“We’re a volunteer board and we can only do so much. I can’t make negotiations and I can’t speak for the university (when booking acts) because I’m not given that authority,” she said. “At this point in time we don’t have the staff or personnel to organize bigger events. It limits us in the ability to put on amazing entertainment. When we have a program coordinator, we’ll be able to do that.”

Hall doesn’t buy the argument completely, especially with the lack of budget information presented.

“They come and say, ‘Gosh, we could do so much more if you just give us a little bit of money.’ It makes me a little nervous when an organization that doesn’t seem to have their stuff together fiscally comes to ask for more money,” Hall said. “They should sacrifice an event next year if they have to, hire a coordinator, get it together fiscally and come back and look at it next year.”

Tobin said the board has tried to fill the position within its current budget and it has been unsuccessful. She added that if the board fills the position with its current budget, it doesn’t allow for growth event-wise. The board recently rewrote and passed a new position description that is now going through final approval with the UAA Human Resources Department.

“We hope to have the position posted in the next two weeks,” Tobin said.

Student Samantha Barnhill, a former USUAA senator, said she thinks Hall has done a good job overall this year but doesn’t understand what he was hoping to accomplish with the veto.

“I feel like the majority of our representatives declared that we should have the right to voice our opinion on it and then one person decided that he thought it was a bad idea,” Barnhill said. “He shouldn’t be allowed to take that personal initiative and stop us from using our voice.”

Hall thinks that is a weak argument against his use of the veto. He figures in its current form students would reject the referendum anyway but that he wanted to make a point.

“As a student representative, I have a responsibility to do what is in the best interest of the students. Saying that this is a student decision is just a way for our leaders not to have to make a decision,” Hall said. “I vetoed it figuring it would cause a little controversy and maybe get it out there more to the students. But the senators can override that veto and that is their power. It’s not like Concert Board is going to fall apart if they don’t get a $2 increase this year. I tried to hold Concert Board accountable for the student fees that they are already receiving.”

Hall said he sees the potential of the coordinator position and wants the board to grow but he doesn’t think it has done enough yet to ask for the fee increase. He hopes the board will conduct a survey of students to better define its role.

“I have nothing against Loki and the board. I think they are doing the best they can with what they have. But are they putting on the shows that people want?” Hall said. “I hear from students that they want concerts.”

Tobin said the board is fighting the misconception that it is there to put on music concerts only. The board does present some music acts but have attracted more attention for bringing in comedians and speaking tours, most notably Henry Rollins, Chuck D and Morgan Spurlock.

“We know students want a music event and we’re working to do that,” Tobin said. “We’ve put on four events this year. And we’re hoping to do two more before the end of the year including a concert.”

Even though it looks promising at this point that the assembly will override Hall’s veto, Tobin isn’t taking any chances. She said the board is working to get the referendum on the ballot as a student initiative, which requires 600 signatures.

“The best thing about this is that now I have the opportunity to make this a student initiative and educate students while talking to them about it,” she said. “I have to get at least 600 signatures. That’s 600 students that I and the rest of Concert Board get to talk to.

“I’m going to get a thousand signatures before I’m done.”

Hall said a student initiative is exactly the shake-up he hoped to achieve with his veto.

“That’s good. I hope she gets 600 people involved on campus,” he said. “But that could blow up in her face especially if you’re going to stand around and ask to increase their fees.”