Last week Batesies elected several of their classmates to positions in student government. Alyssa Morgosh was elected VP of Student Committees, Paul Fourgous VP of Student Clubs, and Brad Reynolds Student Body President. One position, however, was conspicuously absent from the list of elected positions—BCSG treasurer.
There has been a great deal of controversy over how the position of treasurer should be selected. To get the full picture, a little context is a must. Prior to 2007, the student body president appointed the treasurer directly, pending a simple majority confirmation in the R.A., or Representative Assembly. But in 2007, then-President Bill Jack and the BCSG—under the duress of an embezzlement scandal—amended the constitution to make for an “executive council” appointment system. Under this system, the executive council, consisting of the president, two vice-presidents, secretary, treasurer, parliamentarian, and the chairs of the four advisory committees, appointed a treasurer by a simple majority vote, which would then be again confirmed in the R.A. by another majority vote, just like in the old system. In essence, President Jack’s amendment just shifted the initial treasury appointment from the president to a larger committee.
Yet for the past two election cycles, the position of treasurer has been voted on in the general election rather than appointed according to former President Jack’s procedure, which is still technically the law. According to sitting Treasurer Matt Furlow and newly elected President Reynolds, the previous two administrations held open elections in defiance of the constitution after an old piece of failed R.A. legislation calling for the open election of treasurer failed to become law but was somehow incorporated into BCSG procedure as if it had been passed. According to Michelle Pham, a member of the President’s and Trustees Advisory committees, the legislation calling for direct elections actually had passed by the required three-fourths vote, and was therefore constitutional. To be sure, the details of this legislation remain murky, and both sides claim they can prove their position with evidence. Yet uncertainty over past records abounds. The reason for the uncertainty? “Bad record-keeping” under the previous administration, according to Reynolds.
But a focus on the wonkier ins and outs of the previous election (or lack thereof) misses the heart of the debate. The real question is whether elections would make the treasurer more accountable to the Bates community. According to Furlow, open elections would do little to hold the treasurer more accountable. For starters, Furlow argued that it would be hard to distribute information about the budget meetings to students to help them make informed decisions. In addition, Furlow argued that the treasurer and budget committee are already held accountable in several ways. Within the committee itself, all proposals are passed by a simple majority vote. The treasurer, like each committee member, has just one vote. In addition, the R.A. also checks the treasurer’s power in several ways. For example, the R.A. must approve the annual budget from the budget committee, the R.A. must ratify new members, and it can even impeach the sitting treasurer with a three-fourths majority vote.
Moreover, both Furlow and Reynolds stressed that the treasurer is a bureaucratic position meant to serve as a liaison between students and the budget committee. To that end, the two suggested that knowledge of budgetary procedure was much more important than any accountability that could be gained through a direct election.
And this is precisely the problem with an appointed treasurer, according to Pham. She said that because the treasurer is supposed to serve as a conduit through which student proposals find their way into the budget committee, it is extremely important that the treasurer be selected by his or her peers. Concerning the “complexity” of the position, Pham was frank; “it’s not rocket science.”
The debate over appointment or election is not likely to be resolved soon. As long as the budget committee allocates club funds, students will still feel strongly about how the position is selected. Fortunately, Pham, Furlow, and Reynolds have all noted that there need to be definitive constitutional changes to settle the issue once and for all. Exactly what these constitutional changes entail, and exactly how the BCSG plans to agree on them remains an open question.