Student Government member forgoes duties, students say advisers stepped in to save elections
According to his co-workers, Gregory Barber, chair of the Elections Board, didn't do his job, but he is still in the position.
April 27, 2016
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Audio Reporter: Wesley Wright. Audio Editor: Rafael Baez
A miniature American flag hangs upside down on the corkboard of the elections office in the second floor of the Student Union, a traditional note of a state in distress. The flipped flag symbolizes the chaos the elections office faced over the past two months.
“The elections are done so I guess I’ll just — ” Elections Board Marketing Director Ryan Klimar said as he reached over to flip the flag right side up. “I flipped that two months ago.”
In February, the Student Government elections for the next president, vice president and campus governors kicked off, but they didn’t go smoothly.
“Top down, it was a mess,” Klimar said.
Much of the frustration he has is with Gregory Barber, the chair of the Elections Board.
“The fact he didn’t hire anyone, or didn’t communicate what he wanted just shows his lack of quality in his leadership skills,” Klimar said.
The Elections Board released the official results roughly six weeks late.
Barber ran this year’s elections after current Student Body President Kathryn Edmunds placed him in the position in November.
Despite multiple attempts to reach out to Barber directly and through his co-workers and advisers, he did not respond as of publication time.
The main duty of the elections chair is to run the elections. The chair also has to hire people to be on the Elections Board and keep records of its meetings.
Barber needed to hire four staff members to fill the board seats — a commissioner for the Boca Raton, Jupiter and Davie campuses, as well as a marketing director.
He hired just two people — Michael Wilner as the commissioner to represent the Boca Raton campus, and Klimar as the marketing director, a non-voting position. But the problems didn’t end there.
“Barber had difficulty communicating,” Wilner said, who was the sole voting member of the board. “The new elections chair had no competence and no leadership.”
Klimar also saw issues with communication. “[Barber] … decided on meeting times without consulting either of us, so it made it extremely difficult to meet sometimes.”
Barber was supposed to meet weekly for progress reports. Most of these meetings were never held, or were held internally, according to Klimar.
Legally, there is no such thing as internal meetings when it comes to governing bodies in Florida.
Florida law and FAU bylaws require that each meeting be open to the public, and that public notice is given 24 hours before any meeting. There also must be a meeting agenda, and someone has to keep minutes — a record of everything that is said in each gathering.
Barber only has a few meetings on the books since he took office, according to Klimar.
“There were no minutes,” he said. “We weren’t having any meetings.”
On March 24, Heather Nick, the vice presidential assistant, requested the minutes from the meetings Barber supposedly held. She has yet to receive a response from him.
Barber admitted to not doing his job when Carter Lewis, the former elections chair, filed a petition against him on Feb. 26.
Seamus Maloney, the Boca Raton associate justice said, “He admitted to breaking the statutes, he claimed that he was holding meetings and was staying in contact with everybody,” in the court meeting to hear Barber’s case in early March.
The court gave Barber the chance to present his argument for not holding or keeping record of meetings, but he never made the hearing. According to Kahlil Ricketts, chief justice to the Student Court, “Barber sent me an email the day of the meeting … stating that he would not be able to attend the meeting because he had class.”
“He isn’t here to provide proof for that so there is no way for us to know,” said Maloney.
After Barber failed to show up at his own defense hearing, the Student Court recommended his removal.
From there, the decision went to Edmunds, who lost the election that Barber ran. She claims she passed the recommendation onto the senate.
“I was an involved party so my response to the senate was ‘I’m an involved party, I’ll forward both, not because I am making a decision, simply for you to make the decision,’” Edmunds said.
Casey Martin, the vice president and the chair of the student senate, has yet to see any legislation for the removal of Barber.
“No one presented it,” he said.
If Barber or any other member of the Elections Board were removed, the entire election could have been compromised, which runs the risk of having to start all over again.
“We’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Student Body President-elect Michael Cairo in a March senate meeting. “I implore you to put off the date [of removal] to a later time so that the election process can be finished.”
At the time, the board had yet to release official results from the spring elections as they were waiting to resolve filed complaints.
Candidates who run can file complaints — called contestations — against each other for rules broken during their respective campaigns. All contestations have to be settled before the official results can be released.
The candidates who won the unofficial results pled the senate to not disturb or remove any members of the board.
“The entire Elections Board was recommended for removal,” said the winner of the Boca Raton governor position, Hamilton Ezell, to the student senate in March. “If we decide to uphold the recommendation for removal, the entire contestations process will have to start all over again.”
Wilner was also in jeopardy of losing his job as commissioner when Boca Raton campus Gov. Chris Ferreira filed a petition against him. Ferreira’s complaint was that he failed to provide progress reports to the Boca Raton House of Representatives.
Both Wilner and Barber kept their jobs after the senate dismissed the recommendations of removal in the hopes they would finalize the elections.
Edmunds said, “[There] was a need, from my understanding, that the elections finish the right way.”
Wilner eventually stopped showing up for work, saying that Student Government “wasn’t really for him.” Once he did, Barber dismissed all of the contestations himself.
“[Barber] validated the election … in a meeting that he called alone, they had the marketing director [Klimar] voting on contestations when he’s not even a voting member of the board,” said Lewis. “That happened.”
Barbara Peterson, the president of the nonprofit First Amendment Foundation, said that the chair doesn’t have the right to dismiss all of the contestations on his own.
“The chair is not a collegial body and I don’t know under what authority the chair can take action [without] a supporting vote by the members of the board,” she said in an email.
According to Peterson, not following proper open government laws means those involved could end up fined, in jail and potentially unemployed.
“An intentional violation is a [second] degree misdemeanour punishable by a $500 fine and up to 60 days in jail. A public official who has violated the law can be suspended or removed from office,” Peterson said.
Barber will hold the position of elections chair until May 6, until Cairo takes office as student body president and hires his own staff.
Barber Keeps His Job
Former elections chair Lewis, who filed the petition to remove Barber, doesn’t think these actions set a good precedent.
“Barber actually broke statutes, the senate acknowledged that he broke statutes,” Lewis said. “If you do your job badly enough, then they can’t remove you I guess … just because his removal would destabilize [the elections] too much.”
Lewis was the elections chair for two years, until Edmunds forcibly removed him from the position in November. She justified the move by saying he was failing to do his job.
“Certain things had not been followed or done properly and we want to have someone with the leadership who has the ability to fulfill the job,” Edmunds said at the time.
The documents from the Student Government Court regarding the removal of Lewis did not cite any job duties that weren’t fulfilled. Lewis did catch criticism for having low voter turnout in the elections he ran.
“The election might not have been heavily voted in, because no candidates advertised, but it was administratively by the books,” Lewis said of the elections he ran. “They didn’t even have any meetings, I had all the meetings, public notice, we voted on things.”
Klimar, like Lewis, is frustrated that Barber is still employed.
“You can’t just say, ‘Yeah he broke the rules, but we’re not going to remove him because we need him,’” said Klimar. “Those aren’t mutually exclusive, like he broke the rules, and even if you need him, he broke the rules.”
Lewis explained how his position is a lightning rod for criticism more so than just about any other within Student Government.
“Your mistakes on the Elections Board will most likely get you fired if they’re egregious enough. The slightest mistake is going to draw criticism,” Lewis said. “It’s like being the kicker on the football team. You only get one chance to make sure everything goes right. If things don’t go right, there really isn’t anyone else to blame.”
For this reason, Lewis thinks the Student Government “advisers tend to be way more involved with the Elections Board.”
Lewis said when he was the elections chair, some of the first and last calls of the day he would get would be from his advisers, making sure everything was running smoothly.
The Hand of The Advisors
Most Student Government members have the same idea about what the advisers should be doing: providing answers when the students are in the dark.
“If we have questions on how things work, they can give advice on what the steps are to take,” said Edmunds. “They give advice on how to best do your due diligence in your job.”
Allison Rodgers, the adviser and assistant director of Student Government, sees her own job as a “silent supervisor.”
“I personally perceive my job as the support of the success of Student Government,” she said. “My job is to make sure they’re not breaking the law.”
Rodgers answers to Shontae White, the director of Student Involvement. During the Senate meeting deliberation to remove Barber and Wilner, he wasn’t as silent.
“If you decide to remove two individuals, the possibility for [another election] could be high. [The advisers] might have to get involved if SG can’t do its job,” White told the student senate, who was contemplating the removal of the Elections Board officials. “It would be awkward to invalidate an entire elections process. Please do your job ethically and really think about what you’re going to do.”
Klimar thinks that the advisers go too far sometimes.
“The advisers are paid to advise, but they step over that line a lot,” Klimar said. “And that line is obviously very ambiguous, but they shouldn’t really be directly influencing votes or policy.”
On the other hand, Rodgers thinks that White was well within his right to voice his concerns.
“Every person who sits in those meetings has a chance to speak,” Rodgers said. “It’s [White’s] personal opinion.”
Carter thinks the advisers’ presence in the office can be intimidating.
“They’re kind of like the bosses, they’re kind of like the managers of the office and they act like it,” Lewis said. “You can’t not take their advice and not expect repercussions in some fashion.”
According to Klimar, when the board failed to host public meetings, Rodgers would call “one-on-one” meetings to discuss the elections.
Lewis said, “The advisers are here to make sure everything just kind of runs smoothly. For good things and bad. They can be lifesavers for events, because their life experience push it along, but then also that means in events like this, they might not take the most judicial path.”
Klimar thinks that the pressure is coming from higher-ups. In his eyes, Corey King — the vice president of Student Affairs — is responsible.
“They’re motivated by outside factors … that is their positions, and Dr. King that pushes them to get things done to make the school look good,” Klimar said. “Which is fine and all, but when you’re dealing with something that actually legally matters, it’s not just in-house policy.”
You can find this story in our newest issue of the University Press.