The Daily Illini

Illinois student senator submits judiciary petition after constitution violation

By Megan Jones

After a year-long debate regarding the applicability of the Illinois Open Meetings Act to the Illinois Student Senate, Treasurer Kevin Seymour has filed a judiciary petition to the senate’s judiciary branch following an alleged Illinois Open Meetings Act constitutional violation at the senate’s Wednesday, Feb. 5 meeting.

“The senate does not follow Open Meetings Act well,” said Seymour, a graduate student. “I think a lot of senators are actually confused about what they should be doing.”

The Illinois Student Senate is not technically a public body, so it is not required to follow the Illinois Open Meetings Act; however, within its constitution, student senators bind themselves to it, said senator Calvin Lear, graduate student.

Seymour hopes the petition will clarify whether the senate is required to follow the Open Meetings Act, as many questions surrounding the issue have risen in the past, such as the constitutionality of a closed Facebook group, of which several senators were members. 

“This isn’t the first time we’ve had issues with the Open Meetings Act. We’ve also had other issues with appointments, and this isn’t the last time this is going to happen,” Seymour said. “Since nobody before has really challenged any of the past events with the judiciary itself, I think it’s time that the judiciary actually stepped in and set things straight.”

The senate passed a resolution two months ago requiring all senators to complete Open Meetings Act training, but Seymour believes only three or four senators have actually completed the training and submitted their certificates.

Seymour said he plans to resign from the senate Monday “partially due to this incident and partially not.”

When a senator faces a problem within the body, the student body president must nominate an unaffiliated body to handle the proceedings. The senate is only required to submit petitions to the College of Law’s Moot Court Board of Editors, which has not yet met to decide whether they will accept the case, said Dean Virginia Vermillion, assistant dean for academic administration and dean of students. The Moot Court comprises several law students who typically accept rulings from lower courts and debate the constitutionality of their rulings.

“Making sure that we are open and transparent with our dealings is really important,” Seymour said. “We don’t want to erode the trust our public has with our institution, and it seems like these days they aren’t too happy with us.”

Student Body President Damani Bolden said he could not speak on the matter due to pending judiciary action. 

“Please know that my executive team, my staff and the senate is committed to following and enforcing our governing documents and will continue to be leaders on campus in transparency and ethical behavior,” Bolden said in a statement.

At last Wednesday’s Illinois Student Senate meeting, Vice President-External Carey Ash introduced an executive order to add presidential appointments to several standing committees. All executive members, except Seymour, agreed to sign it beforehand, Seymour said. 

Lear believes that while the senate should have the final say, committee chairmen should also be consulted regarding appointments because “if something goes wrong in committee, it is the chairman’s fault.” 

Ash and Seymour debated whether the item should be added to the agenda, as Seymour stated the senate cannot add items for action, which includes executive orders, without having adding it to the agenda 48 hours in advance. Christopher Boidy, parliamentarian, questioned whether the senate was bound to the Open Meetings Act and said it’s a question worth considering.

“It was an executive order for appointments and not a ground, earth-shattering thing,” Lear said. “But tomorrow it could be an executive order to remove a senator or allocate funds, which is clearly illegal, but someone might not be at the meeting to object if they don’t know it’s coming up.” 

Lear believes the binding principles of the Open Meetings Act exist to protect members of the public in addition to members of the senate because “everybody has a right to know what the senate is going to talk about at a meeting.” 

They voted 14-11 with eight abstentions to add the item to the agenda; however, senators then began debating whether a majority or two-thirds vote was needed. Boidy said a majority vote was needed, and the senate moved on despite Seymour and Lear’s warnings. 

“According to (Robert’s) Rules of Order, a two-thirds vote is needed, but you also have to remember, it’s only two-thirds if you could even do it in the first place,” Seymour said.

Seymour added that the senate should also follow Open Meetings Act provisions, such as posting an agenda and holding time for public comment, at their committee meetings as well, which is not usually the case.

Lear said the senate could do a better job at posting their agenda in different public places, such as a copy outside the Pine Lounge and on bulletin boards in the Illini Union as well. 

At the Wednesday, Feb. 12 meeting, Boidy apologized for his mistake and ruled that adding the executive order to the agenda was wrong and violated their constitution. The senate rescinded the executive order and the item will return to the agenda at a future meeting. 

“If it wasn’t for our parliamentarian, we wouldn’t have done that,” Seymour said. “Now that the parliamentarian said something and I filed a judiciary petition, they realize that maybe they did something wrong. Trust me, I would submit a million other judiciary requests if it was worth my time because we do so many things that just aren’t by our constitution.” 

Lear worries that the Moot Court will find the rescindment enough and not accept the case, but clarification should be made regarding whether the senate actually violated its constitution. 

The Moot Court will meet this week to determine whether it will accept the case. If not, a different organization will be appointed. 

Megan can be reached at [email protected] or @meganash_jones.

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