Student Senate, United Council at odds

Story by Alex Zank and Chris Reinoos

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The relationship between Student Senate and the United Council of UW Students has hit a bit of a rough patch this semester, but this is not a new topic.

It all started well before this semester, with the referendum that took place in Oct. 2011 when students decided they wanted to stay in United Council.

There was heated debate during the referendum, and it seems this issue has carried over to the new senate session.

At the first senate meeting in September, a resolution passed that the United Council respond to what is often referred to as the ‘White Papers’, a document written over the summer by executive senate members.

After several weeks of no formal response, another resolution was passed that demanded a response from the group.

This is where the situation currently stands. The senate is waiting for a response addressing these concerns while the United Council has some issues of its own with the White Papers.

Concerns and the White Papers
The source of all of this is from student concerns, Student Body President Corydon Fish said.

“The (White Papers) were written because we received emails from students concerned about where their money was going,” he said, adding these emails come in every year.

“But what I think is a little unusual … attached (to the messages) wasn’t just a simple two-line ‘give me my money back,’ it was ‘I have issues in this organization.’”

The conditions outlined in the ‘Investment Review’ portion of the papers are:

  • A lack of UW-Eau Claire direct representation in United Council
  • The use of student dollars for illegal actions
  • United Council’s absence of tracking vote totals and outcomes for its elections
  • Partisan pictures and marketing materials
  • Problems with its overall government relations strategy

“Seven weeks later there was no reply after repeated contact with the United Council,” he said. “So we decided that creating a formalized reply would maybe hold a little more weight.”

The September resolution stated that students of Eau Claire pay the United Council $75,000 a year.

United Council’s reaction

President of United Council Geoff Murray visited the Student Senate on Monday after receiving the newest resolution.
Murray said he has looked at the White Papers and wanted to let the senate know that United Council has looked at the concerns, but writing a formal and thoughtful response will take some time.

“I think a lot of the concerns are well thought out,” Murray said. “One main thing I would say is they’re rooted in the past that United Council was operating under previously. And I think a lot of the concerns have already been dealt with this year.”

Student Senate has requested a line-by-line review of the White Papers, which Murray said can’t happen quickly.

“Doing a line-by-line review in a board meeting, especially teleconference, of a document that is 20 pages in length … would be an unbelievably time-consuming process,” Murray said.

United Council meetings are often over conference calls, since the staffers live in different areas of the state.

The Senate wanted a ‘prompt’ response to the White Papers. The definition of prompt does not provide a solid time frame, but some senators think there has been ample time.

“Constituent service should always be a priority for any governance body,” Chief of Staff Tyrel Zich said. “When a student comes in and expresses concern about student senate, we drop everything we are not constitutionally mandated to do at the time.”

The United Council will eventually be able to do a line-by-line review, Murray said, but at the time they first received the White Papers they were busy with the elections.

There are some suggestions that Murray said cannot be done.

One of these recommendations Murray pointed to as a “no go” is that United Council pay their Government Relations Director at least $80,000 a year.

“It’s not in our organization’s culture to raise it to double what our Executive Director makes,” he said. “A boss making half what an employee makes just doesn’t make any sense to us.”

Fish said this suggestion was made to make the position more desirable to a professional lobbyist who would have better connections in state government.

Current situation, future actions

Intergovernmental Relations Director Jason Rector said that United Council has the potential to be vital to Eau Claire.
“I think they can be a huge asset,” Rector said. “Their effectiveness recently leaves something to be desired … but the potential to be effective, it’s endless what they could do.”

Rector said the last two years have been filled with turmoil concerning the relationship between United Council and Eau Claire.
“Many of the actions were made somewhat in a partisan manner,” he said.

Rector used as an example a picture taken in the past of now Senator Tammy Baldwin in arms with staffers of United Council.
There were other past issues, including a sit-in and ‘zombie protest’ that some United Council members participated in.

Murray agreed that these previous actions were regrettable, but he also said the issues of perceived partisanship are no longer an issue.

Senator Stephen Kahlow said depending on the outcome of the White Papers and the United Council’s response, it is a possibility that there could be talks of Eau Claire no longer being involved with the group.

“I think completely disengaging ourselves is a bad idea,” Kahlow said. “But at the same time if they’re not serving the functions we want them to serve … there’s really no other way of having that debate.”

In order to remove membership from United Council, it would take another referendum from the student body, Kahlow said.
The next step is to see what actions United Council takes. Murray said it would be ideal to wait until the staff is together in order to respond with as much thought and research as was put into the White Papers.

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