Unauthorized revisions to constitution confuse candidate eligibility guidelines

Unauthorized revisions to the CC constitution over the past seven years led to irregularities concerning candidate eligibility guidelines. Disparities between the original CC constitution drafted in 1995, subsequent unauthorized deletions and revisions to the version published online and newly established funding structures are posing a problem for the Elections Supervisory Committee (ESC).

Two different versions of the CC constitution and interpretations regarding newer funding structures placed two hopeful candidates’ hopes in jeopardy before campaigns even began.

The confusion arose from a mysterious revision made to the Constitution at some point in the late 1990s. Currently, the constitution states that “candidates for the position of treasurer must be or have been members of the Finance Committee [FinCom].”

FinCom, according to the original constitution, must “be composed of the treasurer and eight members chosen by the Council.” The original function of the FinCom was to simply assist CC in budgetary matters. Now, however, FinCom members, who are appointed, have been integrated into the CC Allocations Group (AG), which is charged with overseeing the distribution of the CC General Fund along with three voting CC representatives.

Mike Henry, Mills House CC Rep, AG member and potential candidate for CC treasurer in next week’s elections, challenged the interpretation of the CC constitution regarding the eligibility requirements for candidates for the treasurer position.

According to Joe Masters ’02, CC co-president, at some point in the late 1990s, an unauthorized change was made to the on-line version of the CC constitution, in which the stipulation requiring that candidates for Treasurer be former FinCom members was deleted entirely and the number of FinCom members changed from the original eight to three.

Masters is unsure as to who made the change, but notes that it must have been made several years ago, as the last several Treasurers, with the exception of Jonathan Pahl ’03, current CC treasurer, were not FinCom members. Masters searched archived CC minutes for record of any amendment made to the constitution, but found no such indication.

Since the minutes were incomplete, Masters contacted several past CC co-presidents to see if any amendment had been made, but all said that no amendments had been made during their time at Williams. Thus, no official amendment was passed, and the constitution is still published in its original form in the Student Handbook.

“I noticed the change when I was reading the handbook,” said Masters. “[Pahl] noticed the discrepancy with the FinCom members requirement.”

Since none of the past few treasurers were members of FinCom, the question arose of whether or not the constitution was violated in previous years. The correct constitutional format stipulates that “when these qualifications [requiring FinCom membership] cannot be met, nominations will be open to the entire student body. When only one former FinCom member has been nominated, the Council, by a two-thirds vote, may make other candidates eligible.”

Initial research indicates that none of the previous treasurers ran against any former FinCom members. Thus, their candidacy was constitutionally valid. Nonetheless, both Pahl and Masters criticized the wording of the current constitution, which will be replaced if the student body approves the new constitution in next week’s elections.

“It’s extremely poorly-written,” said Masters, noting that the phrasing of many guidelines could often be interpreted contrary to the intentions of the drafters.

Masters’ research indicates that the unauthorized change was made several years ago, and the AG is a recent creation. Although he discovered the problem some time ago, Masters says that the issue was never publicized.

“When it was discovered, not a lot of people were very interested in it,” he said. Since FinCom at that point only had three members (Pahl discovered the FinCom member requirement later), Masters thought that the requirement was impractical and unduly restricted the candidate pool for the treasurer spot.

“I had always assumed you would never get eight FinCom members,” he said.

The issue has become contentious because the deleted clauses were reinstated in the online constitution by Masters and are being applied by the Elections Supervisory Committee (ESC) in its adjudication of this year’s elections.

The AG was created recently in an effort to streamline CC funding policies. Henry, a CC representative to AG, intended to run for treasurer, but realized that as a member of AG but not FinCom, he was not eligible. He petitioned ESC, asking that he be allowed to run since there is no difference in duties between FinCom and AG members and also because the constitution was not corrected until after the last round of committee appointments.

Irregularities in the ESC’s handling of the issue also arose when Henry’s petition was considered. According to Matt Webster ’04, a member of ESC, the committee met two Saturdays ago and decided that Henry should be allowed to run since nobody knew about the revisions at the last round of committee appointments. Since he could not have known about the FinCom requirement at that point, he would not have able to plan in advance.

Khurram Ahmed ’03, another potential candidate for treasurer who was initially declared ineligible, says he heard that the ESC permitted his and Henry’s candidacy despite the requirement and demanded over e-mail that the constitution be upheld despite the irregularities.

“[A]s many holes as the Constitution may have, it must be upheld simply because it is,” said Ahmed.

Shortly after Ahmed e-mailed the ESC, he and Henry both received e-mails from the ESC reversing its position and declaring them ineligible.

“On Thursday, Claudene [Marshall ’03], the head of the Committee received an e-mail from a student saying that Mike should not be allowed to run because of the FinCom clause,” said Webster. “Opinion from the group were solicited on Saturday, yet without sitting down and discussing the issues face-to-face [and] then taking a vote, the head of the Committee drafted a letter without the consultation of the group. She sent the disqualification letter to Mike stating we had come to our decision for the reason that we must favor the wording in the real constitution and further that he could take his case to the CC.”

According to Webster and Masters, the ESC made a safe decision considering its status as a newly incorporated body. Masters also said that since the ESC only has a few members, it made more sense for it to reject Henry’s petition and refer the matter to a higher authority.

On Sunday night, Henry was notified that the AC, which oversees the ESC, would reconsider Henry’s candidacy. The AC met last night, considered the cases, and decided to allow both Ahmed and Henry to participate in the elections.

Sarah Barger ’02, CC co-president, notified both candidates by e-mail that “the consensus opinion was that the accurate requirements for treasurer were not available in the public domain until this winter. A
ll candidates meet the previously-circulated criteria and are…eligible.”