Wednesday, February 11, 2004

March elections postponed

Written by Aliza Libman - Assistant News Editor
Excalibur - Wednesday, 11 February 2004

The York Federation of Students (YFS) has voted to amend their bylaws and delay the traditional March elections, despite the objections of some council members.

The motion, which passed 22-4-0, amends the bylaws to allow any council to set an election date within one year of the time they are ratified, which, in the case of this council, would be any time before January 22, 2005.

“There are so many reasons that this has to be done,” says president Paul Cooper. “We inherited an organization that is in complete disarray … It takes much longer than two and a half weeks to rectify these problems.”

Cooper and his council only took office on Friday, January 23, after being ratified the previous evening. Their ratification had been delayed because of concerns of misconduct on the part of the elections committee, who adjudicated claims of overspending by Cooper and his 26-member slate.

“We all want a fair and democratic YFS election,” agreed faculty of arts councillor Jordie Saperia. “In order to fulfill our job, we will require more time. It’s in the best interests of everybody.”

Other members noted that the previous two years had been fraught with controversy as last March’s elections were cancelled, then-president Angie Joshi was deposed, and the outgoing council refused to ratify the incoming one.

“We’ve become a joke to most students around the country,” said environmental studies councillor James Gewutrz, noting that the current council has an obligation to fix the situation before calling an election that would just be a repeat of the problems of the past.

Some members of the constituency committee, which carried out the mediation that allowed the council members to take office, claimed that by changing the bylaws, the council is violating the spirit of the agreement that they signed during the mediation.

The agreement states that “the YFS bylaws call for a March Annual Election and the YFS recognizes that they are bound by their bylaws”.
“This motion goes against the agreement that we had in place,” said faculty of education students association president Marek Przemieniecki, adding that since all other student governments held March elections, the bylaw amendment would contravene all the conventions of the university.

Council members in favour of the amendment argued that it was fully within their right to change the bylaws if they felt it better served the interests of the students.

Opposition to the bylaw amendment was strong, with a number of councillors speaking against it.

“Extending your terms is basically unnecessary,” said fine arts councillor Randy Orenstein. “It does not take months to rework simple rules if you have clearly defined goals …. It would take you approximately 10 minutes to define bylaws that would be binding on [those goals].”

Representatives of the college councils of Winters, McLaughlin, Founders, Atkinson and Calumet addressed the YFS, informing them that their colleges opposed the motion to amend the bylaws.

Chief returning officer Ryan Jarvis added that the elections could indeed be duly held in March, as student affairs was prepared to administer them to ensure no repeats of previous problems.

As well, a group of students calling themselves Student Voice for Democratic Choice, who had collected 4,000 signatures on a petition calling for March elections, expressed their dismay that the voices of these 4,000 students would be ignored.

“Four thousand people signed this petition. That’s more students than voted in the elections in March,” said Stong councillor Hammam Farah, who opposed the motion.

“I would like to question the sincerity of the signatures on this petition,” said faculty of education councillor Aliza Jesin, claiming that she was approached by students who told her that they were coerced into signing the petition or signed it without knowing what they were signing.

In an interview, Iris Sepiashvelli, a fourth year philosophy student, reported that she witnessed a number of students blockading a hallway on the day of the rally and telling other students to sign the petition, regardless of their personal feelings.

“People weren’t allowed to pass without signing. When they asked what it was, they were told that it was a long story and that it was for the well-being of the students,” she alleges.
Sepiashvelli also noted that students were offered candy as an incentive for signing.

But Orenstein, who took part in the rally, saw no coercion and doubts that any took place.
“Had I seen anything of that nature, I would have spoken out against it and apologized to the student who was stopped,” he says.

Orenstein adds that since the group who collected the signatures was not a formal group but just a number of concerned students, he cannot officially speak for any of them.

Despite the objections of many councillors and college presidents, who have non-voting status on the YFS council, the motion was carried and the vote is binding until the annual general meeting where both council members and college presidents will vote.

Members of the Atkinson Students Association (ASA) were angered that no councillors voted in representation of Atkinson, despite the appointment of two councillors, Aurangzeb Mubshar and Boris Augilero, by the ASA the previous evening.

“The Atkinson constituency was not represented,” says Atkinson vice-president Shamini Selvaratnam.

The two members had not been ratified into their positions, the speaker Kiley Thompson ruled that the positions were still technically vacant.

Selvaratnam argues that no such ratification is required, due to a contractual agreement between Atkinson and YFS.

The council also voted to reduce the executive salaries by 10 per cent, from $20,000 to $18,000 a year.

“We ran on a platform of `holy shit, executives get too much money’,” said Cooper. “Executives don’t need to get paid that much.”
Members of council suggested that the surplus $8,000 be spent creating bursaries for needy students.


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