Closed sessions raise concern

What’s more important when appointing a student to a public office: the right to privacy when their qualifications are discussed, or the right for the public to know why or why not they are being appointed?

This issue has sparked debate between members of student Senate and the Falcon editors, culminating in two editors, among others, being dismissed from the Senate meeting Monday night when a vote was taken to go into a period of secret debate.

The period of debate, known as executive session, is a portion of any meeting in which non-voting members are asked to leave.

Senate entered into executive session to appoint two new senators, one to represent campus houses and apartments, and another to represent commuter students.

When in executive session, as outlined by Robert’s Rules of Order, a book of guidelines for parliamentary procedures, any action, debate or vote taken within executive session cannot be made public. The assembly has the right to lift secrecy by an assembly vote, but details of the vote are still kept secret.

The action taken by Senate to enter into executive session for the appointment of senators is something editors of the Falcon said is unconstitutional, as outlined in the ASSP Constitution and Robert’s Rules of Order.

According to the ASSP Constitution Bylaw II Section 2, "Meetings shall be open to all ASSP members, who shall have the right to recognition by the Chair."

The Constitution makes no provision for executive session within the context of Senate, referencing executive session only through Robert’s Rules of Order.

While the definition of executive session is outlined in Robert’s Rules of Order, no provision on when to use it is given other than in disciplinary action.

The interpretation of Robert’s Rules of Order by ASSP views executive session as permissible in order to protect the confidentiality of individuals, Andrew Huskamp, ASSP executive vice president, said Monday.

Huskamp presented his view as vice president and senate chair on why executive session should be allowed in senator appointments, followed by a presentation by Evi Sztajno, Falcon assistant news editor, on why executive session should not be used for appointments.

Huskamp said that, according to his interpretation of Robert’s Rules of Order, Senate had the right to enter executive session for appointments because it allows for "a portion of a meeting, at which the proceedings are secret." This is done, Huskamp said, to enable senators to speak freely about the candidates for the position, and likened the process to a job interview.

"We don’t want to debate [their qualifications] in front of everyone," he said.

While the Falcon editors did not debate Senate’s right of executive session, they said that its purpose should be reserved for disciplinary matters only, as outlined in Robert’s Rules of Order.

Sztajno said that no evidence in Robert’s Rules of Order or the ASSP Constitution gives Senate the right to enter into executive session for senator appointments.

The presentation by Sztajno explained that the press’ role is to be present at Senate meetings, and stressed the importance of Senate’s transparency and accountability to the public.

Sztajno also argued that entering executive session outside the context of disciplinary action would set a dangerous precedent for Senate to hold executive sessions whenever it deemed necessary.

In an e-mail to senators, ASSP president Daniel Miller encouraged discussion among senators and constituents in order to prepare for next week’s meeting. Miller covers men’s soccer for the Falcon to satisfy requirements as a communication major in the journalism track, but is not involved in the editorial decisions of the Falcon.

"We [ASSP and the Falcon] are not accusing each other of maliciousness," he wrote. "We are both trying to serve the students in the best way we see fit, and our jobs entail looking closely at this and other situations with that objective in mind."

Before Monday’s session, Huskamp made it clear that appointments would be made in executive session, and that non-voting members would be asked to leave. After Sztajno’s presentation, senior Marissa Perez, who will be voted on next week as Intercultural Senator, said that she did not think the Falcon, or any non-voting member should have the right to hear the debate on her qualifications.

"My privacy trumps the right of public transparency," she said.

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Title: Closed sessions raise concern | Author: Andy Scott | Section: News | Published Date: 2007-10-31 | Internal ID: 6084