SGA broke bylaws amid low-turnout April election

Gershgorn Story II

Taylor R. Billman (right) and Kevin C. Popeck were elected president and vice president, respectively, of Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Student Government Association on April 4, 2013. Billman won a second term. Photo by Dave Gershgorn.

A Civic Project story

By Dave Gershgorn

INDIANA – On April 3-4, Indiana University of Pennsylvania  students elected Taylor R. Billman, 21, and Kevin C. Popeck, 23, president and vice president, respectively, of the university’s Student Government Association.  Billman won a second term in student government’s top spot.

But the election was marred by low voter turnout.  (Elections of members of the annual Homecoming court typically draw many times more student voters.) And SGA candidates violated their own rules for election campaigns.

The spring 2013 voter turnout reflected a sharp decline from the SGA election held a year earlier. In the March 2012 election, turnout totaled 1,136, according to the university’s Qualtrics survey program that is used to for SGA election balloting. In the April 2013 election, turnout dropped to 616, a decline of 46 percent.

Thus, students who cast ballots this year accounted for 4.7 percent of the university’s 13,058 eligible undergraduate voters.

Amid the evident lack of voter involvement, the unopposed winning ticket violated SGA Bylaws in four ways:

  • Billman and Popeck failed to submit a campaign-finance disclosure before the start of election balloting.
  • The Billman-Popeck ticket sponsored campaign activities within 30 feet of a voting place.
  • Pre-election debates for president and vice president were not advertised.
  • The two debates were held on the same day.

Campaign finance disclosure

Article VII, Section 7.06, of the SGA bylaws requires submission to the Rules Committee chair of an itemized campaign-finance statement from each presidential and vice presidential candidate.  The deadline is two days before voting closes. Voting closed April 4 this year.

On April 5, Rules Chair Ethan Y. Wang, 21, an accounting major, said in a phone interview that he did not know financial statements were required. He added that no such statements had been filed.

Minutes after the interview with Wang, SGA President Billman said in a phone interview that he, too, was unaware of the bylaw requirement.

Outgoing SGA Secretary Zachery D. Chandler blamed Wang for lack of oversight.

“If our rules chairman doesn’t even read our bylaws or our constitution, then how can he be our parliamentarian or enforce those rules?” said Chandler in an April 18 interview in the Hadley Union Building. “He can’t. He can’t do his job. He is inadequate. What should this be telling our student body about SGA?”

Shortly after the April 5 phone interviews, the day after the statement was due, Billman filed a one-page, 15-word financial statement  with Rules Chair Wang. It reported one $27 printing charge for Popeck, Billman’s running mate.

Voting place campaigning

Article VII, Section 7.07, of SGA bylaws states: “No campaigning may take place within thirty (30) feet of the designated voting area by anyone.”

On April 4, during the two-day election period, the SGA set up a table near the front entrance of Stapleton Library. On the table sat a computer for students to sign into their Imail accounts and cast electronic Qualtrics ballots for candidates for SGA and for Student Cooperative Association offices.

Displayed on the table were fliers printed with the words, “VOTE VOTE VOTE,” and names of candidates such as Billman, Chandler, Popeck, and Jacob C. Williams, 19.

The fliers at the voting table were an apparent violation of Section 7.07, Chandler said in the April 18 interview.

Moreover, some candidates were unaware they were being drawn into an apparent violation of SGA bylaws. Some candidates named on the fliers — including Chandler and Williams — said they did not know their names had been included.

“I didn’t know that I was being supported on the Billman-Popeck flier,” wrote Williams in an April 19 email. “Neither Taylor [Billman], nor Kevin [Popeck] asked me or told me they were supporting me. The only campaigning I did was with the 117 people that signed my petition to get on the ballot.”

Debates publicity

Article VII,  Section 7.03, of the SGA Bylaws assigns to the Public Relations Committee and to the general membership the responsibility to publicize the debates by “whatever accessible medium.”

“It should have just been on the calendar,” said Joshua T. Noble, 21, SGA public relations chair in an April 7 email.  “If it’s not, then there was some technical difficulties.”

SGA did not post a notice about the debates on Facebook or Twitter, did not place an advertisement in the student newspaper The Penn and did not send an email to the student body previewing the debates.

The debates

On March 26, the SGA conducted presidential and vice presidential debates following a regular student-government meeting in Eberly College of Business and Information Technology, according to Kate Linder, associate dean of students for student life and community engagement at IUP, and one of three SGA advisers.  The debates lasted less than 15 minutes and consisted of outgoing SGA Vice President President John R. Bercik, 22, asking a few questions of unopposed candidates Billman and Popeck.

Article VII, Section 7.03, of SGA Bylaws requires both a presidential and vice presidential debate. The two debates cannot be scheduled on the same day, according to the provision.

Despite the rule and despite the unopposed Billman-Popeck ticket, no SGA member made a motion to suspend Section 7.03, according to Chandler, the outgoing secretary, in the April 18 interview.

ALLISON  L. Shumar, an SGA adviser and graduate student in the Department of Student Affairs in Higher Education, was present at the debates. It is not her place to interfere with the elections, she said in an April 25 interview in Pratt Hall.

But Terry Appolonia, dean at IUP’s Punxsutawney campus and an SGA adviser from 1993-2006, took a different view of the advisory position.

“I really feel that it is the role of the adviser to really know the Constitution very well and to be able to assist the rules chair,” Appolonia said in an April 11 interview.

DESPITE evident violations of its own bylaws, the 2012-2013 SGA has been productive, according to Billman in a March 28 interview. Student government has been instrumental in extending library hours to 24/5 beginning in fall 2013, which will benefit students, Billman said.

SGA also initiated an opinion survey to gauge undergraduate sentiment about academic advising. About 900 of IUP’s 13,000 undergraduate students responded to the survey, according to a May 3 article in the student newspaper The Penn.

But Billman acknowledged communication problems with constituents. SGA has no active mechanism to gather information from students, he said in a March 28 interview.

“We only really reach out when there needs to be,” Billman said. “For example, we went around and got signatures on petitions for students endorsing the library hours be extended.”

Billman said SGA has an email account, although no official SGA email address can be found on the organization’s website. However, individual email addresses for Billman and for SGA’s advisers can be found on the site.

Billman said he would have used social media, such as Twitter. But SGA members “had a problem finding the password or username,” he said.

Billman encouraged student to email SGA sources listed on its website.

“We’re definitely transparent, in a sense,” Billman said.

Dave Gershgorn, a junior journalism major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is from Cortlandt Manor, N.Y.

SIDEBAR: For more information:

For more information or to get involved in the Student Government Association at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, contact the following sources:

Taylor R. Billman
SGA President
Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Kevin C. Popeck
Incoming SGA Vice President
Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Ethan Y. Wang
Outgoing SGA Rules Chair
Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Josh T. Noble
Outgoing SGA Public Relations Chair
Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Zachery D. Chandler
Outgoing SGA Secretary
Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Kate R. Linder
Associate Dean of Students for Student Life and Community Engagement
SGA Adviser
307 Pratt Hall
Indiana, PA  15705
Phone: 724-357-1264

Dr. Amber Racchini
Departmental of Developmental Studies
SGA Adviser
201 Pratt Drive, 212C Pratt Hall
Indiana, PA  15705

Allison L. Shumar
IUP Campus Initiatives Graduate Assistant
IUP Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs Intern
Graduate SGA Adviser
Pratt Hall, Room 303
201 Pratt Drive
Indiana, PA 15705
Phone: 724-357-2598

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