SGA members and outside expert comment on senate bill that gives select members extra stipend

On April 6, SGA passed a bill that allocated funds to a reward stipend for Budget Advisory Committee members. An expert on student governments called the bill “self-serving” and “unethical,” as some senators who were recipients of the stipend voted for it.

The bill allocated $3,500 ($3,815 including the 9% GAR tax) to give $100 per meeting to senators who served on the BAC, the committee that grants funding to clubs, for this spring semester.

Proponents in favor of the bill said the extra stipend rewarded senators for their hard work and for being present, despite facing ongoing issues like financial problems and trouble meeting quorum. They said the bill serves as an incentive for future participation in BAC.

The bill pulls this stipend money from the Carryforward fund, which is the main fund the senate uses for bills. SGA is funded by the Student Activities Fee, which students pay every semester ($16.06 in fall and spring – $8.03 in summer).

The sitting members on BAC are comprised of four senators and director of finance Amanda Ford. Ford authored the Recognition Stipend for BAC bill and did not receive any compensation from it. There were three other senators who didn’t officially serve on the bill but attended, or proxied, at meetings to help fulfill quorum when needed and received the stipend for those meetings.

At the time the bill was passed, eight BAC meetings had been held, so the members could earn up to $800 if they attended every meeting.

Senators who received the stipend voting on the bill leads to ethical questions

According to the minutes from the April 4 SGA meeting, three of the senators who received the additional stipend voted in favor of the bill, and two of them were senators who received the full amount. One of those two also sponsored the bill.

Note: Vote refers to the vote on the BAC Recognition Stipend bill. Graphic by Raven Sanchez.

Butch Oxendine works as the executive director of the American Student Government Association, a national organization that specializes in student government issues across the U.S.

While Oxendine said it is normal for collegiate student governments to compensate their officers, he added that it is considered improper for senators in a committee to vote on a bill that allocates an additional stipend for that committee.

“If you’re voting on something that personally benefits you, you should consider recusing yourself from that vote,” he said. “I could see it where current leaders vote, and then their successors get it [stipend], but it seems pretty self-serving for the current people to get it.”

On top of that, the bill was only sponsored by members on BAC, which Oxendine said adds to the appearance of it being self-serving and looks suspicious. He also said compensating based off attendance doesn’t prove anything, and it should be based more on performance.

“That would be the key. When they get compensation, what do they have to do to earn that?” he said.

BAC member Greg Abukar-Duru, who abstained from voting on the bill, has been a senator on the committee since the start of the academic year. He sponsored the bill but said he did not take part in writing it.

In response to the bill appearing self-serving, Abukar-Duru said other student governments have more funding, more resources and not the same problems as UCCS’ SGA. “If they were in our scenario, what would they do?” he said.

Part of why Abukar-Duru believed the bill was not self-serving was because he thought members on BAC abstained from voting on the bill, but the minutes show that two senators who are a part of BAC, Mason Sowanick and Samrawit Kopessa, voted yes on the bill.

He mentioned that in future bills like this people benefiting from it should not sponsor or should at least find an outside sponsor.

Abukar-Duru supported the bill because BAC functions as the biggest and most important committee in SGA. He believes the committee should be compensated for the hard work they did this semester, noting that BAC meets weekly throughout the semester, which is more than other SGA committees. He also hopes the bill will incentivize the members who received the stipend to stay in BAC next semester.

“BAC is a big commitment … This year has been hard for BAC because of a huge club roster of people wanting more funding and also our financial fiasco,” he said. “Even though it’s retroactive, [the bill] is well-suited for BAC this year specifically … the whole principle of it is for the best.”

The funding pool for SGA as a whole has been dwindling since the start of the academic year, but it has hit BAC especially hard to the point where the committee ran out of funds and could no longer fund clubs less than a month into the spring semester.

Because of this, BAC only met eight times when the bill was passed. Meetings, according to members, are where a lot of the extra hours for BAC members come from.

Abukar-Duru said finding senators to join BAC has traditionally been very difficult because of the required time commitment. He added that this semester has been extra difficult because of class and job schedules that conflicted with meeting times, which contributed to the committee’s challenges.

The lack of people led to difficulties in meeting quorum because each member had to be there for every meeting or there needed to be a proxy in their stead, otherwise BAC could not host a meeting.

When asked if he considered that the bill would be using student fees when deciding to sponsor the bill, Abukar-Duru said his mind was mainly on recognition. “I don’t think my mind was on student fees, [it] was more on getting the proper recognition for senators,” he said.

Other SGA members weigh in on stipend amount and ethics on voting

SGA’s Vice President Aidan Clark said while he is in support of the idea of a stipend that recognizes all the extra work BAC members do, the $100/meeting amount was too high, noting it should have been about $15 or $20 a meeting because it is inequitable to the regular stipend senators receive, which is $420 a semester.

“You are almost getting paid more than double that for eight meetings. I don’t think that necessarily equates because you’re doing a lot of extra work, but you’re not doing that much extra work, so I don’t think that’s fair to the other senators,” he said.

On top of it not being fair for senators, Clark said BAC senators could also have made more than the chief justice and election commissioner, who both receive $960 a semester. BAC members who received the $800 amount also earned almost the same amount as the director of finance, president and vice president positions, who receive $1,344 a semester.

Because of the pricing, Clark said the bill was a hasty decision, and that the timing of the bill wasn’t right because of SGA’s financial problems.

“I probably would have waited until we got through the budgeting process and added it next year when we have more funds and more funds for clubs,” he said.

SGA Co-Advisor Noelle San Souci said that BAC senators do double the amount of work that other senators do, but she declined to comment when asked what she thought about the $100/meeting amount, only adding that she thought the amount was fair if you take the whole year into account instead of just the spring semester.

Like Oxendine, San Souci said that she strongly recommends that SGA members who benefit from a bill like this abstain from voting on it.

“When [stipend recognition] goes to a small group within that larger group, I would always recommend that, if you can, for the vote-sake, abstain just to show that you have the supporting of other senators,” she said.

San Souci said that she provided input to Ford and the other members writing the bill while it was happening. “These are student fees, so please be cognizant of who’s paying these fees and [if] it’s in the best interest of the students who are paying the fees,” San Souci said.

The $3,500 amount allotted for the stipend is almost the amount clubs are capped at for the whole year, which is $4,000. According to San Souci, the average amount clubs request ranges from $2,000 to $3,000 in a year with the medium from last year being around $2,000.

For the next academic year, SGA allocated $5,000 into the budget, which is made by BAC then approved by Senate, for the BAC recognition stipend.

The amount will be for the whole academic year, and BAC will draft a bill deciding how the stipend will be split up at their first meeting next semester then sent to Senate for approval, San Souci said.

Oxendine pointed out that less involvement and struggling to meet quorum is a bigger problem that can’t be fixed through stipends alone because people don’t serve in collegiate governments for the money.

“The money doesn’t really inspire people per se because they can make a lot more doing something else, and it’s hard work doing this stuff,” he said.

Oxendine said what SGA really needs is “intensive marketing support” that answers why students should be involved, what SGA is doing for students and what it has done for students in the past to garner more engagement.

“Marketing is very important, and we don’t do it very well in student governments around the country. We don’t put a lot of effort into it. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does need professional support,” he said.

Q&A from Director of Finance Amanda Ford

Ford responded via email and said she only gives the Scribe permission to use her answers exactly how she stated them in the email.

To honor that request, the Scribe has turned her statements into a Q&A.

Q: What was your reasoning for authoring the bill?

A: The UCCS Student Government Association’s number one goal is funding clubs. BAC must meet with quorum each week to ensure clubs receive funding. With low SGA membership this semester, BAC faced issues meeting the quorum. We had four members, and the BAC quorum is four. Meaning if one person was absent, we could not meet. Therefore, I authored this bill in response to identified needs within the BAC. These needs included recognizing the significant time and effort BAC members dedicated to their responsibilities, incentivizing future participation and addressing unique challenges faced by the committee.

Q: How does this bill serve student interests?

A: Clubs cannot receive funding unless BAC can meet a quorum weekly. The bill serves student interests by ensuring that the BAC, which plays a crucial role in managing student funds and resources, is adequately supported and incentivized to fulfill its responsibilities effectively. The stipend system established this semester, and will continue into next semester, will incentivize senators to join BAC, ensuring that it can meet quorum and clubs can receive funding. 

Q: How was $100 a meeting decided as the amount to give the members?

A: $100 per member ensures that the total amount stays under $4,000, which is how much one organization can request from BAC.

Q: Senators get paid $420 a semester for their normal stipend, meaning a BAC member is getting paid almost double of their regular stipend for attending all eight meetings and almost the same amount for attending half of the BAC meetings. Was this taken into consideration when you were writing the bill?

A: This was absolutely taken into account. Senators on BAC do double the work of other senators, as BAC is the most rigorous committee in SGA and requires about 3-4 additional hours of work each week. 

Q: How did you measure that BAC members work double the amount that other senators work?

A: In SGA, senators must hold two weekly office hours where they can meet on committees and work on bills/projects. Additionally, they must attend Senate meetings, which run about 1.5 hours on a long day. Therefore, senators put in a minimum of 3.5-ish hours a week. 

Outside of their regular responsibilities, BAC senators must review the materials sent out by the DOF [director of finance] at the start of the week before BAC meetings. To do a good job reviewing this material, BAC senators should do about an hour of weekly review (looking at SharePoint, agenda and itemized budget to cross-check funding guidelines, club math etc.).

Additionally, BAC meets weekly, and meetings run about 1.5 hours on a long day. During the budget season (last 5-6 weeks of the semester), senators should also do an additional one hour of review on the working budget draft each week. Therefore, BAC senators put in a minimum of around 2.5-3.5ish hours a week.

Senators not on BAC: 3.5+ hours a week

Senators on BAC: 6-7 hours a week 

Q: What was different in this semester’s difficulties experienced by BAC compared to previous semesters?
A: BAC has always struggled to have a quorum. However, due to low overall SGA membership, this semester’s quorum was historically hard to achieve every week as many senators had overextended themselves trying to help out in BAC.

Additionally, funding clubs and ROAR Daze amidst university budget shortfalls and a campus-wide target created unprecedented challenges that made scheduling and meetings challenging. Senators bent over backward and sacrificed their commitments, schedules and time to ensure BAC could happen each week. 

Q: The bill states it is a “small” recognition stipend for BAC, but $3,500 has been more than quite a few bills and funding asked by clubs, correct? 

Clubs can request up to $4,000, so this bill was less than club funding. The mean bill amount in the Senate is $3,000, so this bill was in the exact mean bill range.

Q: When making the bill, were there concerns about doing this in the middle of funding issues? Was it discussed using or saving the money for clubs either in the present or future?
A: The amount allotted to this bill is less than it would take to fund one club. This bill is an investment in BAC to encourage senators to join so that next year, when we have significantly more money to fund clubs, we can ensure that funding can be dispersed by having a BAC that meets quorum weekly. 

Q: When making the bill, were there concerns about how it could look optically and how members of the public could perceive it? Were there discussions about that topic?

A: This year’s primary concern is not being able to meet weekly quorum next year and fund clubs. This was the primary concern considered when making the bill. Other concerns seemed negligible. 

Q: Did you discuss with the other members who would be receiving the stipends to abstain from voting on the bill? Why or why not?

A: I think it’s inappropriate to ever tell another person how to vote. Senators are equipped with the education and tools to determine their votes themselves. 

Q: Did you try to get other senators outside of BAC to sponsor the bill?

A: As the bill passed Senate unanimously, I think any senator outside of BAC would have sponsored it happily.

Q: Can you explain how and when BAC members will be paid the additional stipend of $5000 during this next fiscal year and what amount each BAC member will be paid?

A: BAC’s only job regarding the end of the year budget is allocating the total line-item amount. The amount of individual recognition BAC members will receive will be split up and determined by the director of finance next year, pending approval from the Senate. This is similar to how total line-item amounts were allocated to the Judicial Board or the PR committee, and then it will be up to the specific entity next year to split that amount up.

Photo via The Scribe archives.