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Looking back at a drama-filled year for SGA

Looking back at a drama-filled year for SGA

Looking back at a drama-filled year for SGA
April 22
02:03 2014

Joshua Knopp // Senior Staff Writer

For one, it felt like the end of a long Hallmark movie. For the other, all sentimental feeling was long gone.

This was the scene as SGA president Zachary Brown and election coordinator Precious Femi-Ogunyemi signed off on president elect Troy Elliott’s victory in the SGA elections late in March.

Just a year earlier, the two participated in their own election with Shamaal Fletcher, which evolved into a bitter runoff that drove Femi-Ogunyemi out of the organization. Fletcher, despite voting for Brown in the runoff, would end up trying to impeach him in January.

A hotly contested election

Zach Brown

Zach Brown

Zachary Brown and vice president Anthony Brown were less than 50 votes away in the 2013 elections – twice. SGA elections require presidents to receive more than 50 percent of the student vote. In the initial election between Brown, Femi-Ogunyemi and Fletcher, Brown received 48 percent of the vote, 43 individual votes shy of hitting 50 percent.

Femi-Ogunyemi received 37 percent of the vote, and Fletcher received 15 percent, which eliminated him from the runoff. Fletcher came into the election as a respected, experienced senator, but said he realized before the election that Brown’s connections through Pi Kappa Alpha and other campus organizations put him in a better position to function as a president.

“He’s a Pike. He was a freshman intern. He’s well connected on social media,” Fletcher said. “I had 35 followers when I joined Twitter last year. I think Zach had over 1,000. Even with those 35, I could see Brown and Brown plastered all over Twitter.”

In the runoff, Brown won by a hair, and that hair is still disputed by Femi-Ogunyemi. She believed Willis Library was off-limits as a campaigning site, but in the runoff’s waning hours, Brown collected an unknown number of votes campaigning there with a laptop and won the runoff by 34 votes.

Brown said it was unclear in the campaign rules whether or not Willis was off-limits. Femi-Ogunyemi said it was perfectly clear, and called Brown’s statements “bold” and “false.” She still does not view the loss as an honest defeat.

“We were playing by different rules,” she said.

Femi-Ogunyemi and vice presidential candidate Terrell Dionne brought the issue to the SGA supreme court, extending the controversy another week until the court upheld Brown’s election in a 4-1 decision. Then president Rudy Reynoso said 92 percent of the student population didn’t vote, and Femi-Ogunyemi could easily have drawn from that pool.

“It didn’t come down to Willis, it more came down to personal perseverance as far as going out and getting votes,” Reynoso said at the time. “It really does come down to the actual candidates and how much they wanted it.”

Though she had said before the general election she would remain in the organization regardless of the results, Femi-Ogunyemi left SGA over the disagreement, saying she felt betrayed and hurt.

“I felt like the whole organization was against me,” she said. “I felt like a bad person, but I didn’t do anything wrong. It was a victim mentality.”

That semester, Brown and Femi-Ogunyemi both worked in the Orientation and Transition Programs office. Though she hadn’t seen him for three weeks, Femi-Ogunyemi said she was livid when Brown came in the next day. They did not speak.

Summer Session

During the past spring, Brown, Elliott and the other presidential candidates have repeatedly pointed to SGA’s summer session as a time to take care of internal issues. In summer sessions, senate meetings are composed of the president, vice president and only 10 senators, making legislation much easier to pass.

Throughout Brown’s administration, lack of senator attendance and a resulting inability to pass legislation would become the predominant issue, with much of Fletcher’s legislation and eventual impeachment attempt revolving around the organization’s lack of teeth.

But attendance was one of the issues Brown’s administration tried to address during summer session with the introduction of a point system. It requires senators to attend, collect student opinion and introduce legislation to accrue points. If senators don’t accrue enough points or have more than two unexcused absences, they could be kicked out of SGA.

Fletcher and Brown flip-flopped on this legislation over the course of the year.

Brown, though initially supportive, eventually likened it to giving cookies to someone who doesn’t eat sweets. He realized removing people from an organization with attendance problems was a step in the wrong direction.

“If one of your main problems is people don’t attend, kicking people out – it would hurt us more than it helped us,” he said.

Fletcher thought it would not be effective and voted against it during summer session, but now holds the policy’s lack of enforcement as one of the reasons SGA hasn’t passed much legislation this year.

“That’s the problem with our SGA – no one is enforcing the rules,” he said. “The only reason summer session is so productive is you can get 10 people together and hold 10 people accountable.”

During the impeachment process, Fletcher was appointed speaker pro tempore. In that position, he is now in charge of enforcing the attendance policy.

SGA by-laws require a two-thirds majority of senators to pass legislation. Because the senate has 45 seats during regular session, even though many were and still are unfilled, legislation requires 30 votes to pass. But fewer than 30 senators have attended a majority of SGA meetings this year, meaning any proposed legislation wouldn’t pass even if unanimously approved by everyone present. This was the climate in which Fletcher tried to impeach Brown.

23_sga_1

One unhappy senator

Fletcher said he’d been trying for several weeks to get Brown to address a collection of issues in enforcement of the SGA bylaws before he brought the matter before the rest of the senate.

“I brought it to Zach and Anthony’s attention and got the ‘yes, yes, yes,’ but nothing was being done,” he said.

It first came to a head during the Nov. 13 meeting when Fletcher introduced two referendums, one of which would limit Brown’s ability to spend SGA’s budget. Fletcher immediately began expressing frustration with individual members of the executive board, at which point the senate called an executive session and closed its doors to anyone outside SGA for the duration of the discussion.

Anthony Brown said the discussion became a personal evaluation of himself and Zachary Brown, and it was inappropriate for anyone outside SGA to hear it.

“A lot of what was happening at that meeting and the way it was heading at the time, it was much more of a personal vendetta against me and Zach,” he said.

Fletcher said at the time that things would have been different had he won the election, but that it wasn’t about bitterness. He would later express regret that he ran at all, saying the question of whether or not he was simply a sore loser would always be attached to these events.

At this point, Fletcher and Brown tell different stories. Zachary Brown said Fletcher stopped communicating with him and Anthony.

“The worst part about that whole impeachment process was he would not engage us,” Brown said. “In his mind, that time was already done.”

Fletcher said that he started communicating primarily via email so he could have documentation of his communication.

At the Jan. 22 meeting, Fletcher announced he would attempt to impeach Zachary and Anthony Brown for not appointing a Supreme Court, not maintaining committee minutes and voting records, and not managing consistent meeting times, occasionally canceling meetings without senate consent, among several other issues.

This began a nearly month-long process of Fletcher collecting the 1,000 requisite signatures for impeaching the president, after which it would go to a student vote. Fletcher was appointed speaker pro tempore at the same meeting.

Fletcher said the impeachment was mainly about letting students know they were in control. He said although the errors were systemic within SGA, the buck had to stop with Brown. After starting with a mass email, Fletcher would collect more than 200 paper signatures and print out 2,000 fliers for his cause.

“I’m spending my own money. I’m taking that extra step,” he said. “I think that’s where people really thought it became personal.”

After reaching the required number of signatures, Fletcher sat down with Zachary and Anthony Brown and discussed how to achieve what they all wanted – a better SGA. In the end, Fletcher agreed to suspend the impeachment process if Brown would update the constitution and senate online, send out a written apology to students and address other by-law issues.

While Brown has made some changes, including appointing an SGA supreme court, he has still not completely fulfilled his end of the compromise. Fletcher eventually decided pushing further would not be worth the trouble.

“That’s why it was a waste of time,” he said. “Nothing came of it.”

If Brown had been impeached, the freshly appointed election committee would have been charged with finding a new executive to serve for the next few months in addition to running the regular election that Elliott was elected in. The committee was headed by a familiar face – Precious Femi-Ogunyemi.

A not as hotly contested election

Femi-Ogunyemi stayed involved on campus during the year, working with Homecoming Crew, the Student Health and Wellness Center and in vice president for student affairs Elizabeth With’s office. She said serving on the election board was an opportunity to run a fair election, which she feels she didn’t have.

“I wanted to run a smooth election,” she said. “I knew I would be able to facilitate a fair and just election process.”

Despite having three presidential candidates again, Femi-Ogunyemi did just that. With fraternity connections similar to Brown and having served as Black Student Union president the past year, Troy Elliott won the president’s position in a landslide with 65 percent of the student vote in March. Elliott had worked on Femi-Ogunyemi’s campaign last year.

No one campaigned anywhere near Willis Library.

During the presidential debate, Elliott and the other candidates, Pedro Ortiz and Katrina Gibson, all made reference to Brown’s attempted impeachment. Zachary and Anthony Brown said it wasn’t fair to remember his administration as the one that almost got impeached, but nothing really is.

“I think the people who see us as the administration who almost got impeached are the people who don’t really see us,” Anthony Brown said.

For Brown, signing off on Elliott’s victory was like the end of a long Hallmark movie.IMG_0039

“It just felt like all of that competition, it was finally done,” he said. “I think it was just that same cast of characters who continued. I feel like it was turning a page in the whole book.”

For Femi-Ogunyemi, all sentimental feeling was long gone.

“I didn’t even care,” she said. “It didn’t faze me. The point that fazed me was back in April. Here and now, signing onto a new president was just part of my job.”

Takeaways

Given the same circumstances, Fletcher doesn’t know if he would take the same actions again.

“The frustration that I had with senate, that frustration that I had with exec [board], it boiled over,” he said. “At the same time, I missed out on so much I could have done if I hadn’t gone for the impeachment.”

Fletcher said he has a feeling he and Brown will meet again. He said they were good friends before and have developed a reasonable relationship after the impeachment process.

But he thinks there will always be trust issues – he will never know if Brown will hold up his end of a bargain, and Brown will never know how far Fletcher will go to make him.

“If he and I are ever involved in business, I think that’s something that will always be in the back of our minds,” Fletcher said.

Femi-Ogunyemi said she didn’t really know what lesson to take away from all this, but that the personal relationships between she and Brown had stabilized.

“It was always in my face that he was the student body president. It’s like I’m the girl that got stood up at prom and my date became prom king,” she said. “Now, it’s only as awkward as the conversation is headed. I can’t harbor ill feelings toward him any longer. It’s not healthy. It’s been over a year. I’m not there.”

Zachary and Anthony Brown don’t use “the I-word” in the office. For them, the takeaway is that SGA is a group effort and all they can do is try their hardest and hope it works out.

Zachary Brown pointed to a recent SGA meeting when he asked the senators to raise their hands if they’d given 100 percent effort this year. No one did.

“I honestly feel like, at that point, the blame can’t be directed upward,” he said. “They honestly think that our effort should wash out the lack of effort. It’s really easy to criticize with that fire and not participate with that fire.”

Top right photo: Political science junior Zach Brown, former SGA president. Photo courtesy of UNT.

Center right photo: Shamaal Fletcher announces he will try to impeach Zachary Brown during the Jan. 22 SGA meeting. After a month of collecting signatures, he would drop the impeachment. Photo by Joshua Knopp / Senior Staff Writer

Bottom left photo: Precious Femi-Ogunyemi explains how this year’s election will run after being appointed election coordinator during the Feb. 19 SGA meeting. Photo by Joshua Knopp / Senior Staff Writer

Feature photo: UNT SGA Logo. Graphic courtesy of UNT SGA. 

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