UCOSA Makes Changes, Violations Continue

Bottom Middle: Vice Chair Kalina Popova, left, Chair Remington Dean, center, and Secretary Mario Figueroa address the student body during the UCOSA Congress meeting on Feb. 12 in the Nigh University Center Will Rogers Room. (Evelyn Stewart/The Vista)

The University of Central Oklahoma’s Student Congress recently made changes to ensure compliance with the Oklahoma Open Meetings and Records Acts, the UCO Code of Student Conduct as well as their own bylaws. However, some violations remain overlooked.

In the past several months, the Student Congress has not correctly recorded minutes in accordance with OMA, held a meeting without an advisor present on Feb. 26 against Code of Student Conduct regulations and cancelled a meeting without proper advance notice, violating OMA law.

“In years past, Congressional leadership made a conscious decision to violate the OMA, even after being confronted with their transgressions,” said UCOSA Senator Colten Kidd. “I believe the leadership this year has done a much better job with following the OMA, but has still fallen short on occasion.”

The congressional minutes in the past did not reflect everything discussed in meetings.

As of March 12, UCOSA tried to make it more clear by adding minutes to the side of each item that is discussed to show how long each topic is discussed. There is also more detail being recorded on discussions.

However, votes are still not being recorded correctly in the congressional minutes. Section 305 0f the OMA calls for the votes of each member to be cast publicly and recorded thereafter. As of now, UCOSA puts the bill in question and then under it will read either PASS or FAIL.

“The minutes must explain to the public what happened during the entire meeting and it must include the votes on each motion that’s made, whether it’s passed or defeated. It must include how each member voted,” said Joey Senat, associate professor at Oklahoma State University School of Media and Strategic Communications and author of “Mass Communication Law in Oklahoma”.

Senat said the public [students] should be able to go to the minutes of the meeting and see how a senator voted on a particular motion or bill. Recording only a result of “PASSED”, “TABLED” or “FAILED” in the minutes does not comply with OMA.

“The recording of votes is the responsibility of the secretary. Most often, the vote is unanimous. But many times, Senators choose to abstain from voting and other Senators choose to vote in opposition of a bill,” Kidd said. “The current way UCOSA handles voting is incapable of recording each Senator’s [vote].”

Furthermore, on Feb. 26, current UCOSA advisor Cole Stanley, Associate Vice President of Affairs, was not present at the meeting. A graduate assistant occasionally fills in for Stanley, but was also not present.

According to the UCO Code of Student Conduct, under section V. Student Organization Expectations and Responsibilities; L. Advisor Responsibilities; 2. h), advisors are required to attend all meetings and activities of the organization, or find a qualified replacement if they cannot be in attendance.

“If it’s an unexpected thing and we try to cancel the meeting, then we’re not giving an advanced notice to cancel a meeting. Then, we would get dinged for trying to cancel a meeting without notice,” Stanley said. “So, I think we have to figure out how to best go through without having stumbling blocks.”

Stanley said he does not know where he was on Feb. 26. Since being UCOSA’s advisor is not the only part of his job, conflicts arise or he could have a sick kid at home. Stanley did not know where the graduate assistant fill in was that day either.

“We’re trying very hard to follow all of the rules without it being a stumbling block to the students,” Stanley said.

On Feb. 27, a congressional meeting that was to be held March 5 was cancelled without proper notice. An email was sent seven days before the meeting was to be held, but OMA requires a 10 days notice of such change.

“Hello Senators, It has been brought to my attention that some senators would like to miss congress next Monday in order to see the guest speaker [Ken Ham] that is coming to campus. We will not have a congressional meeting next Monday.

Our next meeting will be March 12th at 4:00pm in the Will Rogers Room,” Remington Dean, UCOSA Chair, said in an email to senators.

According to OMA Section 311 under A, 8 if any change is to occur with the date, time, or place of regularly scheduled meetings of public bodies, such as UCOSA, then there needs to be notice in writing 10 days before.

In the UCOSA Bylaws, Chapter 3 Section 5 shows that if a senator or senators are unable to make it to a meeting, there are people who can attend for them and lists exactly who those people are.

“I don’t know if we are 100 percent of every snippet of the Open Meetings Act, but I know from where we were last year at this time to today, we are [in a] way better off situation than we were last time,” Stanley said.

However, UCOSA’s Bylaws state that UCOSA shall fully abide by both OMA and ORA. Since it is in their own bylaws it would have to be followed regardless of if UCOSA technically meets OMAs requirements of a public body or not.

“The UCO Student Congress [is] a component of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education, and as such it and its members shall abide by all Oklahoma State Laws. Specifically, the UCO Student Congress shall fully abide by both the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act and Oklahoma Open Records Act,” bylaws Chapter 1 Section 6.

Specifically, the bylaws also mention that the Chair (currently Dean) should make sure Congress is abiding by OMA and ORA.

“I’m trying to make sure that we are doing all that we are supposed to be doing, being as transparent as possible, without causing stumbling blocks and those are conversations we’ve had in exec [executive branch] is like do we need to change the bylaws?” Stanley said. “Do we need to update the bylaws to make them more reflective of how to operate more smoothly without the stumbling blocks in place, and again not trying to skirt any rules or regulations, we want to be as transparent as possible.”

In an Attorney General opinion from Attorney General Mike Hunter and Assistant Attorney General Lauren Hammonds, a similar situation regarding OMA was decided upon for the Oklahoma Sheriffs’ Association.

Hunter said that OSA is required to comply with OMA because that association is a public body receiving public funding one way or another.

Similarly, UCOSA receives public funding through student fees at an institution funded by the government and is therefore considered a public body. If UCOSA were to remove or change the Chapter 3 Section 2, H. bylaw, the organization would still, in fact and by definition, be required to comply with OMA.

“In the case that a member has violated some Oklahoma State Law, some UCOSA Constitutional Law, some UCOSA Statute, or some UCO Student Congress Bylaw, the following action shall be taken. A. The member shall be contacted immediately by UCO email and asked to resign…,” bylaws Chapter 2 Section 7.

This section of the bylaw goes on into more detail about what should happen in this instance.

Kidd said this process that needs to be taken in the case of a violation has never happened because UCOs Student Congress has a strong sense of self-preservation and accountability.

“This rule [bylaws Chapter 2, Section 7] first asks that members of UCOSA have a working knowledge of, and abide by, all UCOSA, Local, State, and National laws. This is unreasonable,” Tate Atkinson, Accountability, Reform and Transparency Chair, said.

Atkinson said that in the bylaws [Chapter 2, Section 7] it does not say who specifically needs to contact a member to resign due to any violation, and it is not his responsibility to email anyone in UCOSA to resign.

“UCOSA is [here] to serve the student body. It is against these interests to create a big deal over a members infraction of an obscure state law,” Atkinson said. “Yes, it is within my duties to keep the executive members accountable, but I am not a watch dog or whistleblower.”

The ART committee is also, Atkinson said, supposed to address all issues concerning student organizations, their constitutions, university policies that affect UCOSA and congressional membership policies overall. 

It is the public’s right to know how its government is running. Part of the reason for following OMA is to ensure that people are getting the proper help they need in the proper way. The point is not to punish or stop the government from helping people.

“The Legislature’s goal in enacting the Open Meeting Act, ‘was not simply to prevent or punish deliberate violations, but to restore sadly sagging public confidence in government, a goal which is hurt by every noncomplying meeting regardless of whether or not the noncompliance resulted from evil motives,’ then-Attorney General Jan Eric Cartwright said in 1982,” OMA excerpt, 1982 OK AG 212, paragraph 11.

The constitution, the bylaws, the congressional minutes and the rest of the UCOSA documentation can be found on UCOSA’s page on OrgSync.

For students wanting to get involved in UCOSA and or wanting to voice their concerns, the meeting place and times are also posted on OrgSync under the Files tab.

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