Instead of holding its originally scheduled budget amendment meeting this past Sunday, the UA met privately in a closed caucus regarding an unsuccessful petition to impeach the UA president. The meeting contributed to a postponement of the annual budget process, leaving other branches of student government without an official budget allocation until March 23.
The UA cited “extraordinary circumstances” as the reason for pushing the budget schedule back until after spring break.
This is is not the first snag in the development of the budget this year. A UA representative’s resignation from the Budget Committee and the resulting internal election for a replacement in January, coupled with frequent snowstorms, put the development of budget meetings behind schedule, UA Speaker and College junior Joshua Chilcote said.
While the budget is drafted by a three-member Budget Committee, the UA typically allows for three weeks to collectively discuss the overall budget, Chilcote said. Leaders of other student government branches typically attend the first two of the budget-related meetings, during which they debate the allocation of funds.
The first of these meetings took place on Feb. 23 and the second was slated for March 2 - but after the petition surfaced, it was booted to March 16.
The final vote will not take place until March 23 - weeks after the originally planned date.
While the UA took a week of the budget process to work out its internal kinks, the rest of student government and other student groups such as MERT were left in budgetary limbo until after spring break.
Leaders of other student government branches were not notified of the schedule change until Feb. 28 - two days before the originally schedule budget amendment meeting, reported leaders of the Student Committee on Undergraduate Education, the Nominations and Elections Committee and the Student Activities Council.
Other student government branches - the Nominations and Elections Committee, the Student Committee on the Under Graduate Education, Student Activities Council, and the Class Boards - were notified of the possibility of a schedule change via an email citing “internal UA matters” as the cause for the impromptu closed meeting and were contacted to vote on whether to rescheduled meeting or to hold it after the closed caucus.
According to the final vote tally, obtained by the Daily Pennsylvanian, the vote was close but the student government branch leaders voted to push the meeting.
“It’s very frustrating that the UA would be taking up internal matters during budget season, especially when we have been expected to turn in our budget on time. We’re trying to secure our own budgets for next year before we have our own internal turnovers,” NEC Chair and College senior Frank Colleluori, who did not vote to push the meeting, said.
SAC Chair and College junior Kanisha Parthasarathy, who is also vice chair for education on the NEC, reported that the actual postponement of the budget process will not functionally affect SAC, which has been holding its own budget allocation interviews for student groups from Feb. 24 through March 6. The executive board will meet the first weekend in April to determine SAC’s final budget allocations, by which point the UA will have voted on a finalized budget.
Amidst the schedule changes, communication between student government groups has been compromised.
“I think that communication about the budget timeline could have been more clear,” Parthasarathy said.
The rescheduled budget amendments meeting will now take place on March 16, the Sunday after spring break.
However, the UA says that the meeting was helpful and necessary for moving forward after the petition, which received a reported 11 out of the necessary 12 signatures to start the impeachment process, before some signatories including UA Vice President Gabe Delaney rescinded their support.
The meeting was decided upon in consultation with Katie Bonner, executive director of the Office of Student Affairs, reported Chilcote. In a vote, the UA opted to push the process until after spring break rather than discuss the budget immediately following their closed meeting.
“The idea for the executive meeting came from several sides. Members came to the conclusion at the same time that we had to have a meeting within our body,” Chilcote said.
UA President Abe Sutton was one the leaders who suggested the meeting. “I turned to Katie and OSA for advice as they are here to support us and help us work together,” Sutton wrote in an emailed statement to questions. “Katie suggested we hold a meeting to speak about our mental health as a body and how we communicate with each other.”
Before the meeting began, members were asked to put away their laptops and place their cell phones on a table in the center of the room. The meeting was restricted to members of the UA body. Everyone else, including Daily Pennsylvanian reporters, was asked to leave.
“In this case, we really wanted to create a safe space,” Chilcote said. “It was purely to maintain honesty so members could say what they wanted and eliminate miscommunications.”
In half a dozen emails sent to Daily Pennsylvanian editors in the early hours of Tuesday morning, members of the UA closed ranks around Sutton, a College and Wharton Senior.
“My experiences on the UA this year have been extremely positive, due in large part to Abe’s leadership,” UA Representative and College sophomore Jane Meyer wrote. “When I was first elected, Abe was there for me and encouraged me to achieve my goals. He is honestly a good person. I can’t imagine him harming anyone.”
Leaders and former leaders of four minority umbrella groups - the Latin@ coalition, the Asian Pacific Student Coalition, Umoja, Lambda Alliance and the United Minorities Council - also released a statement saying, “Abe is a genuine ally to the 5B coalition.”
Three leaders of student groups - College junior Dawn Androphy of the Lambda Alliance, College and Wharton senior James Feuereisen from PennApps Labs and Mia Garuccio, the former PRISM co-chair - also reached out. They cited instances when Sutton helped their student group with a difficult initiative.
Garuccio described how Sutton expanded space and time for Muslim students to worship on campus, “Abe is always eager to take on projects involving student interests that he doesn’t need to be involved with for personal gain, but purely because of his interest in helping other students,” she wrote. “That willingness to help others is a real testament to his character as a leader and an individual.”
Correction: This article was edited to show that UA branch leaders voted to postpone the budget meeting to March 16.