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Student Gov. votes to close door on transparency

Jacob Downey, Luke Young 


Editor-in-Chief, Managing Editor


The Student Government Association of Plymouth State University has repeatedly removed The Clock during deliberations, supplied us with inconsistent minutes, and refused to hold open-door discussions on how student fees should be spent. We are concerned as to the legality of their actions per RSA-91a “ACCESS TO GOVERNMENTAL RECORDS AND MEETINGS.”, a statute presented by the General Court of New Hampshire that specifically references committees created by the USNH board of trustees. A resolution based on the RSA was raised and quickly torn down by SGA members who expressed concerns about whether or not the law applies to them and the potential public backlash from votes being documented and scrutinized. While The Clock cannot know their innermost thoughts, their comments, recorded in their discussion during their meeting on Sept. 25 indicate to us that they do not want the student body to know what goes on in HUB 119.

SGA’s by-laws currently lack any mention of open or closed-door meetings and make no reference to when, how, and why the public would need to be dismissed. During SGA’s meeting on Sept. 25, “Resolution 2324.2 Amendment Clarification of Public Votes,” was presented by Speaker Will Loughlin ‘25. Due to “ambiguity,” a term here meaning lack of any material reference in the SGA By-Laws, this resolution would codify word-of-mouth procedures that Loughlin’s bill identifies as being “common knowledge.” 

The resolution also determines that moving forward all legislation will require a “50% +1” majority to pass, that “All resolutions, amendments, or any other legislation are to be voted upon in public session,” and “All motions relating to clubs and organizations at Plymouth State University, including CEA (Capital Expenditure Authorization) requests, student organization approvals, or otherwise related motions, are to be discussed and voted upon in public session.” 

The resolution specifically dictates that motions related to “The individual actions and conduct of an SGA member, the internal function of the SGA, internal elections of members, confidential and potentially harmful information about a student or other individual” are to remain closed to the public. Adopting this resolution as it is currently written would eliminate potential legal issues while creating a bylaw that could later be challenged should the reason arise. 

While we cannot know all of the reasons behind their stances, the comments recorded in  their discussion of this amendment are as follows:

University System Student Board (USSB) Trustee, Emily Coutermarsh ‘24 said according to an undocumented conversation she’d had with President Birx, RSA 91-A may or may not apply. Coutermarsh said she has yet to receive a concrete statement outside word of mouth from the Board of Trustees and miscellaneous figures within the USNH network, in the event the RSA fails to apply there would be no need for the transparency promoted by the resolution. 

“I think that it causes more issues because at the end of the day, we are the elected representatives and it is our discretion,” Coutermarsh said.

Christyan Cimino, president of the class of ‘26 and vice speaker, echoed Coutermarsh’s point, noting that specifically in the cases of CEA requests. 

“When it comes down to who we’re giving money to, and the reasons why we may or may not give the money to [them], might cause issues … We’re all human,” Cimino said. “We may say, ‘Hey, let’s keep it in the room and walk out,’ [but] that’s not going to happen. I don’t want anyone to have to, you know, purposefully leave this room and carry a negative week with that.” 

The possibility of a ‘negative week’ could refer to possible social consequences SGA members may face as a result of the realities of their position, that not everyone is going to like the way that they vote. CEAs are only voted on when the request exceeds $5000. This flash in the pan will be rare, but the significance of a student organization requesting such funds, taken from student fees, is something the student body has the ethical obligation to be given full transparency on regardless of its legality.

Student body president Devonte Gilmore ‘24, despite previous comments about improving organizational transparency, had mixed feelings on the resolution. He pointed out that closed-door deliberation and voting add a “layer of protection to SGA members” and since a lot of decisions are made outside of the general assembly in informal committee meetings, someone would need to take up the role of secretary for each committee. 

Should the RSA apply, this informality could constitute another violation. He also pointed out that closed-door sessions, in some way, protect students from things coming out wrong or in a harsh or potentially hurtful manner. Gilmore, despite extended fence-sitting and references to Greek myth, ultimately voted in favor of the resolution.

Student Body Vice-President Nicole Reynolds ‘24 added that, regardless of whether or not the RSA applies, SGA still follows the general rule of having everything be public record. Of note, however, is that the public SharePoint/OneDrive meant to contain SGA’s minutes has yet to go public. Concerns raised by The Clock as to the quality of minutes taken were met with insistence that their scribe is “still learning.” No meeting notes have been uploaded since Feb. 28, 2020.

SGA’s by-laws seem to rely more on normative, oral traditions than hard and fast rules. 

For example, in this very same meeting, SGA’s Class of ‘25 Representative Will Hicking proposed “Resolution 2324.1: 91.7 WPCR in the Hartman Union Building and Prospect Dining Hall.” The purpose of this resolution was to replace Rockbot with WPCR programming in both The HUB and the Dining Hall, “permanently, under all hours of operation.”

Both Hicking and USSB Rep. Jonah Rosenberg ‘24 are members of WPCR, with the latter serving as the station’s General Manager. Hicking, in what one might consider a conflict of interest, voted in favor of the resolution. 

Rosenberg abstained but when previously asked, “Do you think there could be some conflict of interest with you being specifically titled in a student organization, namely WPCR?”, he replied “I don’t want to have any influence or favoritism in regard to funding or privileges. Every club should be entitled to fair funding, so if it ever came up I would probably leave the room.” Rosenberg did not leave the room. 

Though difficult, the student body should not attribute to malice what can far easier be explained by incompetence. While SGA members contribute a lot of labor for a position that other institutions would see compensated, the student body of Plymouth State University deserves better than closed-door sessions and devil’s advocacy. While true, SGA members are our peers and are deserving of compassion, so do we as a student body deserve accountability, transparency, and a higher caliber of representation than what Gilmore, Coutermarsh, Reynolds, and Cimino are bringing to the table. 

SGA has the opportunity to do the right thing when they vote on Resolution 2324.2., Monday, Oct. 2. Will they? Based on previous statements, The Clock has its doubts.