Appeals Committee meets on election issues

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UNB Saint John’s Chief Returning Officer, Eric Ofosu-Asare met with an Appeals Committee on Monday, April 14 to determine the outcome of an appeal concerning the Students’ Representative Council (SRC) vice president external position.

Adam Smith, who ran for VP external, filed the appeal against his opponent, Jon Cogger immediately upon the release of the Election results on Friday, March 14. Cogger was named VP external during these elections and a recent notification on the myUNB portal webpage listed Cogger among the official members of the incoming SRC—despite the fact that the CRO was still considering Smith’s appeal.

After an entire month of waiting, Smith’s appeal has finally been addressed.

The Appeals Committee consisted of the CRO and four students; Megan Rathje, Danny Oliver, Mateen Sultani and Kevin Yoon. President, Ashley Macosky, as well as SRC members Jess Buck and Sidney Cunningham, sat in as observers. Eric Ofosu-Asare determined at the beginning of the appeal that onlookers were to remain silent until a final decision was made, wherein they could subsequently ask questions or comment on the result. All bystanders respected the CRO’s rule, remaining silent while the Appeals Committee members discussed the issue at hand.

Though the committee was supposed to meet at 4:00 p.m., a miscommunication on the CRO’s part postponed the meeting until 4:45 p.m. At that time, Smith made his appeal to the group.

Smith began his appeal by saying, “The reason for my appeal is on the grounds of the legitimacy and the integrity of the election that was held,” he says. “Essentially, what we have here is a dangerous precedence that can be set for this company and organization, one that allows candidates who commit offences (in this case in which the only punishment for it) as directed by the bylaws and campaign regulations—is automatic disqualification to hold an office. This will undoubtedly lead to future candidates realizing that students before them were able to ‘win an office,’ by cheating the system and getting away with it, so they will attempt to do so themselves,” says Smith.

Following Smith’s speech, wherein he names the election week violations committed by his opponent and challenged Cogger’s reinstatement, the meeting became heated.

It should be noted that the CRO did not provide the appeals committee members with copies of the Student Representative Council Policy Manual or the Campaign Regulations Winter 2014 Election document. A copy of Smith’s appeals, as there were two, were not distributed to all of the committee members either.

Ultimately, the Appeals Committee was a mere formality, as the CRO made his final decision without calling for a vote or confirming the members’ opinions on the appeal. In fact, Ofosu-Asare confirmed that his decision had been made prior to the meeting. Smith asked the CRO if he had made up his mind as to the appeals’ result before the Committee met, to which the CRO responded that he did. With no intention of respecting the democratic process of an Appeals Committee, the integrity of the CRO’s decision is problematized.

The CRO’s final decision is this: Jon Cogger’s position as the incoming SRC VP External is revoked following the appeal filed by his opponent, Adam Smith. Furthermore, the position of VP External will be left vacant, and neither Cogger nor Smith will be permitted to apply for the role if it becomes available again. It is unclear whether a VP External will be appointed, or whether an election for the position will arise in the summer or during the fall.

Megan Rathje, one of the Appeals Committee members and an incoming Arts Representative with the SRC, felt that her opinion was ignored at the meeting. Concerning the CRO, Rathje says, “he let us have our turn to speak, but he did not take it into consideration, as he openly admitted he had come in already knowing his decision. We did not have a vote. Only three out of four of the members of the committee had a chance to speak and even then, nobody agreed on anything and it felt like our opinions weren’t even heard.”

Danny Oliver, another member of the Appeals Committee, says that the result of the meeting was “a small victory.” Oliver also commented on the CRO’s predetermined decision on the appeal, “at the end of the meeting, after we had all had our discussion, the CRO stated to all of us that he already had his mind made up when we went into the meeting.”

Though Smith’s appeal did not yield the intended result, the VP External candidate felt vindicated. “I felt, and just taking myself out of the equation even if I wasn’t running against him, I felt that what Jon had done throughout the election […] the offences that had been committed – he shouldn’t have been eligible to hold the office.” On the now vacant VP External position, Smith says, “If that’s all that we’ve succeeded in doing, then that can be enough,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s justice, but it’s definitely what needed to happen.”

With no one holding the position of VP External, the question remains as to whether the CRO’s decision to leave the role vacant is the best decision for UNB Saint John’s students. Considering the responsibilities of SRC members over the summer, the absence of a VP External will surely be felt.