UCF Student Government Association presidential elections start tomorrow, but just a few weeks ago candidates Joshua Bolona and Jad Shalhoub experienced a bump in the road.
Their campaign rivals, SGA Chief of Staff Brad Keuhler and Diveristy Chair Breon Clark, filed multiple complaints with the SGA Election’s Board, accusing Bolona’s ticket of a series of campaign violations. Hearings were scheduled, including one on Feb. 28, in order to decide the best course of action.
Knight News requested information regarding the hearing’s time and location in order to relay the board’s findings to the public, as well as to ensure fairness to both the accuser and accused in the process. Florida law is very supportive of complete transparency, and as such, media and the public had the legal right to attend the meeting, according to Knight News’ lawyers. Despite this fact, Knight News was told by Supervisor of Elections Ashlyn Sanchez that the hearing was closed, and that media would not be in attendance.
Open Election Violation hearings are essential, and other Florida universities, like University of Florida, have open SGA violation hearings. Back in 2016, Jacob Milich’s UCF SGA Presidential Campaign was suspended after a closed hearing. Milich claimed his conservative views sparked the conflict and that he was unfairly suspended; however, because the meeting was closed, public disclosure and oversight became impossible.
After being denied access to last week’s hearing, Knight News’ legal team went to work. It did not take long, however, for UCF’s attorneys to deny that Knight News ever requested access to the hearing at all, an entirely false allegation. UCF’s Deputy General Counsel Youndy Cook stated in email correspondence with Knight News’ attorney Justin Hemlepp that “Knight News did not seek entry to an election violation preceding”.
It’s not clear who gave Cook the incorrect information. Neither Sanchez nor current SGA President Nick Larkins returned Knight News’ request for comments.
Despite this denial, SGA Attorney General Anthony Minute, realizing the threat of a lawsuit from Knight News against anyone causing the meeting to be closed, released a formal memorandum containing the following statement: “I am directing the SGA Election Commission to maintain open Violation Hearings moving forward. Furthermore, I will be urging the Election Commission to protect the education records of students in every way necessary.”
The full statement can be found here.
Knight News was able to contact Josh Bolona, who stated that despite the closure of the hearing, his campaign had complete trust in the Election Board. Bolona maintained his ticket’s innocence in regards to the violations, and stated that he trusted the Board would come to the same conclusion.
Upon the resolving of the hearing, Josh and Jad were allowed to remain on the ballots, although they faced some restrictions on campaigning after the board found minor violations.
Brad and Breon did not respond when asked for a statement regarding the situation.