OUSA Constitution breached in NZUSA scandal

OUSA Constitution breached in NZUSA scandal

Hernandez finds a diamond in the rough

The OUSA Executive yesterday confronted a breach of the OUSA Constitution by three of the four delegates sent to Wellington to cast OUSA’s votes in the 2014 NZUSA (New Zealand Union of Students’ Associations) election. The offending delegates voted contrary to a motion carried during Monday 4 November’s Executive Meeting, notably moved by Jordan Taylor, “that the Executive direct the delegates attending the NZUSA Conference to vote for Francisco Hernandez in the NZUSA Presidential elections on 10 November.”

The delegates attending the conference were OUSA Welfare Officer and President-Elect Ruby Sycamore-Smith, Finance Officer Nick Tenci, Education Officer Jordan Taylor, and Women’s Representative Sam Allen.

Although Hernandez obtained a majority of votes in the first round of voting, he required a larger 2/3 majority to be elected President of NZUSA. It came to his attention that all delegates except for Sycamore-Smith had each switched one of OUSA’s votes from Hernandez to another candidate in the second round of voting, when his position suddenly dropped to third and final place.

OUSA is given four votes in NZUSA elections, with votes given to associations in proportion to their respective university’s student enrolments. These votes are explicitly not then given to “delegates” in the sense that they are empowered with the authority to make decisions on OUSA’s behalf. Rather, the use of delegates is more like a highly inefficient alternative to the OUSA Executive casting its votes by carrier pigeon. This is in accordance with section 7.6 of the OUSA Constitution, which states “All Resolutions of the Executive and all acts done will be binding upon all the members of the Executive whether present at any such meeting or not.”

The OUSA Constitution is a legally binding document, and thus the offending Executive members were allegedly breaking the law. This is also the first time in recent history, if not ever, that OUSA’s Constitution has been broken in such a way. As such, sanctions passed down by the Executive were setting a significant precedent.

The incident was initially discussed at an OUSA Executive meeting held on Monday 18 November. However, Taylor was absent from the meeting and as such only the sanctions placed on Tenci for his involvement were decided.

Sadly, Critic is unable to report the vast merry-go-round of discussion and debate that followed, as the meeting was put into Committee of the Whole (during which all discussions are strictly confidential) for reasons of personal privacy for exactly an hour and nine minutes.

What Critic can report, however, is that the Executive acknowledged and accepted Tenci’s apology and explanation, and considered a vote of no confidence in the Executive members involved as a consequence. This idea was dismissed, however, “owing to technical issues.”

The sanctions finally placed on Tenci were to censure him; to forbid him “from any external representation on behalf of OUSA until after 31 December 2013;” and to reduce his honorarium (pay) by half as from 10 November (when the offense occurred) until 31 December 2013.

Tenci was notably absent from the Executive meeting of 4 November during which the motion in question was passed. He is also relatively new to the Executive, having won a by-election for the Finance Officer position late this year.

In contrast, Jordan Taylor, who was the Executive member that moved the breached motion, was recently re-elected by the student body to his third term in the position of Education Officer for 2014. This experience, paired with documented support and understanding of the motion in contention, would indicate in layman’s terms that Taylor should have known better.

Critic was thus expecting a stronger precedent to be set in yesterday’s Executive meeting, held to decide what sanctions would be placed on Taylor.

The meeting was again put into Committee of the Whole, with the resulting sanctions placed on Taylor simply altered versions of those placed on Tenci. Taylor is now forbidden only from “new” external representation on behalf of OUSA for the remainder of the year, and has an increased honorarium cut of 80 per cent.

Sycamore-Smith abstained from voting in both motions of sanction. Notable also was that Administrative Vice President Zac Gawn switched from voting against the sanctions placed on Tenci to voting for the sanctions placed on Taylor.

Critic can also report that once Wednesday’s meeting moved out of Committee of the Whole, it was agreed by the Executive that OUSA would “review its policies on transparency.”

The final delegate understood to have breached the motion to vote for Hernandez was OUSA Women’s Representative Sam Allen. Allen is not an Executive member, however, she had travelled to Wellington to successfully stand for the position of NZUSA Women’s Rights Officer.

It was stated in Monday’s meeting, “The Executive also expressed strongly their disapproval of Sam Allen’s involvement in the voting process considering she isn’t an elected Executive member on OUSA. The Executive request a conference call or Skype be had with Sam to explain her part in this decision.”

Following Wednesday’s Executive meeting, Hernandez instructed the members in question not to speak with Critic about the incident. He told Critic that this was because he had prior discussions with them and felt he could articulate their responses himself.

“Both individuals moved the motions of sanctions against themselves, which shows they think the sanctions are fair,” he told Critic.

Hernandez hesitated to agree that he saw these as “honest mistakes,” however, he did say that he saw it “more as a cock-up than as a conspiracy.

“I think people are allowed to make mistakes. These mistakes happen all the time in politics, but when people make mistakes that have serious consequences, then those who have made the mistakes should also face serious consequences.

“I think the Executive pursued a restorative justice approach, that both restored the mana of the person affected and took steps to heavily sanction the people who performed them and ensure it doesn’t happen again. We’ve all learned lessons from this.”

Hernandez also pointed out that at this point in the year, the sanctions that the Executive could pursue were “heavily limited because there’s only a few months left in the year.”

However, he thinks that “it does establish a fair precedent, it’s just that the impact of it is muted because it’s the end of the year.

“If it had happened in, say, May, the sanctions may have been for the rest of the year. Losing part of your pay check for half of the year that you’re working is worse than losing it for just a couple of months.”

Hernandez also agreed “there is potential” that this incident would have had to go to the student body if it had occurred earlier in the year.

In fact, the OUSA Constitution states that the Executive must instruct the Association Secretary to call an SGM (Student General Meeting) to notify the student body of any breach of the Constitution. This is likely to occur early next year, as an SGM must be held during term time.

What remains to be seen is whether this perceived setback will continue to reflect a lack of Hernandez support to other students’ associations when voting occurs again on 11 December, as a 2/3 majority was still not reached after three rounds of voting. Hernandez thinks it “undoubtedly” will.

“It’s like I’m a stock market crash.”

Critic also drew attention to whether president-elect Ruby Sycamore-Smith can feel confident in having support from her Executive next year, with the two offending Executive members re-elected to their respective positions in the most recent OUSA elections. However, Hernandez thinks the incident will instead give her leverage through “guilt-tripping them” next year.

“I think Ruby should have cracked the whip a little bit more, but I’m really grateful for her loyalty. Her parents should have named her ‘Diamond,’ because she came under extreme pressure that weekend and came out more beautiful. Actually, that sounds like a pickup line so maybe don’t print that.

“I’m very disappointed with what’s happened. And I expected them to know better. I set my expectations pretty clear, and they chose not to listen.

“I’ve learned a lesson in politics from this: don’t trust anyone. They’ll either fuck up or they’ll be disloyal, and either is as damaging.”

This article first appeared in Issue 26, 2013.
Posted 3:00pm Thursday 21st November 2013 by Zane Pocock.