Transparency: SGA Senate addresses possible public access issues

Sydney Cromwell, Editor-in-Chief

Out of 51 randomly selected Samford students, only three knew how to access the Student Government Association Senate’s meeting minutes.SGARules

None knew how to find Senate bills and resolutions, because they currently aren’t publicly available.

In the Senate’s code of laws, chapter 307 governs public access, or how students are informed about what’s going on in Senate. It includes regulations on open and closed Senate records, as well as directions for making certain documents available to students.

Despite the code of laws’ requirement of a “proactive approach to public access,” some of these rules are only partially followed, or not at all.

Several documents are supposed to be placed on SGA display boards in the University Center: the time and place of all meetings, the most recent meeting minutes, copies of recent pending or approved bills and resolutions and the names and contact information of all senators. Meeting times and locations are also supposed to be “announced in all official general SGA advertisements.”

Currently, only the contact information of senators is posted either outside the SGA office or on its display board near the food court.

The list includes names, SU boxes and email addresses, which replaces the phone numbers required in the code of laws.

Director of Student Leadership and Community Engagement Janna Pennington said this information has been moved to the SGA OrgSync page, and the code of laws simply needs to be amended to reflect updated policies. Chapter 307, she said, was written before there was an OrgSync.

“The whole idea of putting stuff on OrgSync was so that it could be accessible to the whole student body, or at least people who cared about it and were interested,” Pennington said.

Vice President of Senate and senior political science major Stephen Newton said Senate documents have only been posted on OrgSync during his three years as a senator. He noted that it was more convenient to students than a single copy on a bulletin board.

The Senate meeting minutes are kept up-to-date on the OrgSync page, which any student can join, and the time and place of Senate meetings are posted on the online calendar. None of the bills and resolutions from this school year are posted online.

In the same Crimson survey of 51 students, nine knew when Senate met and six could name a recent Senate bill or resolution.

Only five students believed OrgSync was an effective communication tool, and several said they had never heard of the site before.

Newton believes the reason these bills and resolutions are not online is a lack of demand from students. He has not personally seen student desire for this information, though he noted anyone can request it through their senator or by emailing him.

“If there is demand to read the actual bills and resolutions themselves rather than solely minutes, that is fantastic and Senate would be more than happy to post them,” Newton said.

Thirty-two of the surveyed students said they would be interested in keeping up with what’s going on in Senate. The same number said they would like this information to be distributed in a different way.

According to the code of laws, fulfilling the public access requirements is ultimately the responsibility of Newton as the Senate vice president.

Code of laws chair and junior political science major Garrett Greer said he and other senators have been considering amending the public access laws. However, Newton said if students want this information, he would prefer to make it more accessible instead of changing the laws.

“If students are wanting it posted, I do not believe the code of laws should be changed to reflect the current practice,” Newton said. “I think it would be great to go ahead and start making them more easily accessible to the public.”


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