SU accountability questioned

By Rob South

Executive accountability forced its way to the forefront of the University of Calgary Students’ Union on Oct. 3 in a day filled with closed-door meetings, examinations of the bylaws and the longest Students’ Legislative Council meeting of the school year.

During the SLC meeting many commissioners expressed concern that some of their members do not feel comfortable approaching members of the executive either privately or publicly with feedback about the performance of certain executive members.

"There is a communication problem [between commissioners and executives] and the lack of communication could lead to a lack of accountability," said Academic Commissioner Nic Porco. "[Executives] need feedback to be accountable and even to know how to be accountable."

SU President Toby White and Vice-president External Duncan Wojtaszek commented that their experience as commissioners last year helped them understand the commissioners’ concerns. The two brought forward a proposal for a unanimous feedback mechanism they worked on over the summer.

"There is room and need for an anonymous feedback system for executives," said White. "I think feedback is the first step towards accountability. You can’t be accountable without feedback."

Wojtaszek commented that there are already a number of accountability measures at the SU including question period at SLC, executive reports at SLC and trimester reports. However, several commissioners commented that the nature of these mechanisms is uncomfortable because the executive determines the amount of honoraria they receive each month.

"It is necessary to have another system of feedback because the present system is ineffective in a number of ways," said Academic Commissioner Barb Wright. "It is problematic to commissioners due to honoraria."

The Academic Commission presented to SLC a draft proposal for a system of feedback and evaluation on executive’s performances which would be administered by a committee of five elected officials. This differed significantly from the model proposed by White and Wojtaszek. Some members of executive and some commissioners questioned the effectiveness of a committee to deal with anonymous feedback.

"Do I trust you all as individuals to keep a secret, yes I do," said Wojtaszek to SLC. "Do I trust you as a group, no I don’t."

Others were concerned the committee process would create a cumbersome workload.

"I hate bureaucracy," said External Commissioner Matt Stambaugh. "I am just an old-fashioned Albertan who wants to see things get done."

Whether or not all members of the executive are getting all of their work done was the indirect subject of many comments at the SLC meeting. Inferences were made to some executives being consistently late for meetings and not keeping office hours.

"There have been times when things needed to be done or needed direction to be done and it just didn’t happen," said Porco.

VP Events Alix d’Archangelo admitted she was often late, but questioned whether SLC should not be giving more constructive feedback.

"I follow bylaws and my job description but it still leaves a lot to interpretation," said d’Archangelo. "[Your job as an executive] is basically up to interpretation."

Other members of executive asked why they had not received any feedback in person and wondered whether the issue was not being blown out of proportion.

"I would postulate that most of the people in these positions have a desire to serve students," said VP Operations and Finance Matt Lauzon. "They don’t do it for money or experience. They don’t do it for glamour, believe me it is not that glamorous."

"No one to any of my knowledge is saying that anyone has done a bad job this year," said Events Commissioner Chris Kerr.

A number of refined proposals are expected at the next SLC meeting on Tues., Oct. 10. According to most members of council, the meeting was productive and they hope the council will desire change.

"In having an executive that is accountable, it will create a more effective organization," said Wright. "I think [executive] have been doing a wonderful job."

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