Op-eds are the opinions of those who wrote them, not the Knight News team.
My name is Jorge Salles and I was a former Student Government Justice. On Thursday March 24th, I resigned from my position out of frustration with the current political system in our University and as a sign of protest against a set of statues that permit nepotism. In my opinion, the Office of the President of the Student Body holds too much power over the elections process. Moreover, I believe the disqualification of Jacob Milich from the ballot was undemocratic and represents a conflict of interest involving candidate Chris Clemente, President Cait Zona, Chief Justice Taylor Scimeca, and the Election Commission. The solution to fight this imbalance of power in our student government is to reform SGA Tittle VI, which constitutes the election statues.
The Election Commission has 7 current members, 5 of whom attended the meeting in which Milich was disqualified from running for president. Some of the commissioners who attended this closed meeting were appointed by Student Body President Cait Zona. I was unable to know how many, as the Chief Justice Taylor Scimeca could not recall this information when I asked. Jake Milich was disqualified by the election commission and we do not have access to any official record of this meeting on the grounds that this would violate the privacy of Milich’s academic records.
Further, Cait Zona has openly endorsed Chris Clemente, who would have been Jake Milich’s opponent had he been allowed to run for the office of the presidency of the student body. As I mentioned previously, President Zona appointed at least part of the election commission who was responsible for disqualifying Milich. The Supervisor of Elections is also appointed by the Student Body President each year. Taylor Scimeca, the Judicial Council’s Chief Justice, who was also appointed by Zona, and who is also one of Zona’s personal friends, was responsible for deciding whether the Judicial Council would hear Milich’s appeal. Title VI entitles the Chief Justice to decide whether an appeal will be heard by the Judicial Council by determining whether the candidate’s rights could have been violated.
I believe it would have been in the interest of the student body for Ms. Scimeca to discuss this decision with the other justices, as the decision to disqualify one of the election’s frontrunners was made by one person, rather than the whole 63,000 students that comprise the student body. Scimeca would not release her rationale to either the Council or, allegedly, to Milich. This decision was made on the grounds that this would violate Milich’s right to privacy with respect to his academic records.
The failures that lead to the disqualification of Jacob Milich are both systematic and discretionary. On the one hand, the very notion that a candidate can be disqualified by an unelected organism in a private meeting is product of a series of systematic failures. These must be addressed by reforming Title VI which addresses elections statutes. Discretionary failures are those in which an official acted in a way that is consistent with current statutes but that acts against the interests of the student body. For instance, President Zona’s endorsement of candidate Chris Clemente is permissible within the statutes of SGA but it creates a conflict of interest, as it places her appointees at odds against someone who’s running against her endorsee. Chief Justice Scimeca’s motion not to discuss Milich’s appeal with the Judicial Council could have been a discretionary failure, though in her defense, I could not independently determine whether she was indeed forced not to share this information under FERPA law.
I am not accusing President Zona, Chief Justice Taylor Scimeca, the Election Commission, or candidate Chris Clemente of nepotism or corruption. I am saying that we have a political system that does not have the proper checks and balances to prevent nepotism or corruption by encouraging secrecy and preventing transparency, and that there is a conflict of interest between these parties and the current presidential election.
On Friday March 25th, Chris Clemente will be appearing before the Election Commission. I hope the commission will act unbiased and render a verdict they deem appropriate without paying regard to personal preferences on that date.
SGA’s Cait Zona responded and said the following:
“While I did appoint some Justices and some Election Commissioners, that is the Student Body President’s duty every year. After my appointment, it is the duty of the entire Senate to approve the nominations. In June 2015, Chief Justice, Taylor Scimeca, was confirmed by the Senate with a vote count of 27-2-0. In October 2015, Supervisor of Elections, Whitney Barnes, was confirmed by the Senate unanimously with a vote count of 40-0-0.
The vote counts of all other Justices and Election Commissioners are public records as well. In response to my affiliation with the Election Commission, they are a separate entity from Executive Cabinet and I have very limited interactions with them in any official capacity. “