On March 4th AUSU council convened for a regularly scheduled meeting. All council members were present, along with legislative committee chair Karl Low, Administrative Assistant Carla Benavides, who took minutes, and myself.
The following report is based on my observations of what transpired, and is intended to allow students who could not attend understand what transpires at an AUSU council meeting. The Voice will continue to report on future council activities, and both The Voice and AUSU welcome any questions you may have.
The meeting convened at 6:00 pm, at which time the agenda for the evening was approved, as were the minutes of the last council meeting.
One order of business, the addition of new councillors, was moved to the beginning of the agenda. Due to the departures of councillors Darren Kereluk and Tamra Ross Low, president Debbie Jabbour proposed that long-time Legislative Committee chair and Strategic Planning Committee member Karl Low be appointed to a council position. This recommendation was passed by a unanimous vote, and Karl was welcomed to council. Karl said that he would like to remain as chair of the Legislative Committee, which will continue the long term project of updating the AUSU bylaws and policies.
Next on the agenda was a discussion regarding the activities of Secretary Treasurer, Gurpreet Dulai. Discussion began with a statement by AUSU President Debbie Jabbour, in which she detailed concerns about ST Dulai that had been under discussion by council for some months, and also some that had recently come to light.
She began by detailing the recent revelation by herself and Finance Committee Chair Karie-Anne Getta that Mr. Dulai had not been performing the bookkeeping duties for AUSU but had instead contracted the accounting firm responsible for AUSU’s audits to perform audits, bookkeeping and clerical duties at a rate of approximately $1000 per month. She also stated that she and Ms. Getta had found documents detailing outstanding accounts that were recently written off by the Secretary Treasurer because he claimed that insufficient records of the debts made them un-collectable. Ms. Jabbour mentioned that she had spoken with AUSU’s accounting firm, and been informed that AUSU had been charged a much higher fee for their audits due to insufficient and poorly kept records (under the AUSU bylaws, the keeping and safeguarding of AUSU records is the responsibility of the secretary treasurer). Ms. Jabbour said that she had spoken with ST Dulai about these concerns, and that at first he had denied that he had not been doing the bookkeeping, but later he admitted that he may have been a little lazy.
Mr. Dulai interjected and denied ever having said this, but Councillor Getta, who had been present, confirmed that he had.
At the end of Ms. Jabbour’s statement, she told council that she felt personally responsible for not being more aware of Mr. Dulai’s activities, the poor state of council paperwork, and for not responding in a more timely manner to concerns about Mr. Dulai. She further suggested that council consider bringing a reprimand against her if they felt it was appropriate.
After President Jabbour’s statement, the floor was opened for discussion. I was invited to be involved in the questioning as some of the issues were initially raised by me, and also because any student is permitted to ask questions in a council meeting. It was also noted that as Voice editor I am responsible for a significant portion of the council budget, and therefore I require timely and accurate information from the Treasurer and Finance committee.
It was the opinion of many councillors that the bookkeeping should have been done by the treasurer. Ms. Moore noted that Mr. Dulai is paid a monthly wage of $1,000.00 to perform these tasks, and that it was improper for him to accept this wage while using AUSU funds to hire the accountants to do the work.
Mr Dulai said that the bookkeeping for AUSU has been handled in this manner for some time, and that in his opinion this is the most appropriate way to ensure a separation of duty between the treasurer, the accountant, and the Finance Committee of AUSU. He warned that if the treasurer were expected to write out cheques, put one of the two signatures on cheques, and perform bookkeeping duties, there would not be sufficient separation of duty in order to ensure honesty.
Finance Committee chair Karie-Anne Getta responded that the very purpose of the finance committee is to oversee and double check the work of the treasurer, and that this alone provides more than sufficient separation of duty. She also said that by having the same firm do the bookkeeping and perform the audits, there was less separation of duty.
I then asked Mr. Dulai “If it is your belief that having the accountants do the bookkeeping is appropriate, then why were you so angry in September when I suggested that you were not doing the bookkeeping duties yourself, and you vehemently denied this being the case?” Councillor Dulai replied that he did not recall this particular conversation, but reiterated that in his experience, and based on his significant financial background, he was proceeding in the most appropriate way in order to ensure a separation of duty and to provide a number of checks on the bookkeeping process.
Council member Moore and I then asked Mr. Dulai about his apparent reluctance to provide financial records when requested in September, and many times since then. Mr. Dulai said that he did not remember receiving any requests with which he did not comply and that he would always send out information if asked for it. He stated that it did not sound like something he would do, to receive a request and not respond to it. He suggested that the requests might not have been clear enough, or he might not have understood what was expected.
Both Ms. Moore and I said that we had requested records in September, and had met with a great deal of resistance and hostility. Mr. Dulai said he did not think he was involved in this exchange, but I reminded him that it was not a private exchange and that the emails had gone to all of council. President Jabbour had copies of these emails on hand and confirmed the date of September 14th and 15th on which they were sent. Mr. Dulai then confirmed that he remembered this exchange.
Councillor Moore mentioned that when she requested reports from other councillors she received them quickly and without question, and she could not understand why she did not get a report from Mr. Dulai for many months. She also stated that as an executive member, Mr. Dulai had missed several council meetings and executive committee meetings, and had failed to be present at many government and university meetings that required student union representation.
AUSU Vice President Shirley Barg pointed out that Mr. Dulai had informed council of his absences, and thus had complied with council regulations regarding absences.
I then mentioned that when I requested information about the Voice budget, it was either not provided by Mr. Dulai, or it was incomplete or very late in coming, and I had to turn to Finance Chair Getta with my requests. Ms. Getta responded that she had tried to get the Voice budget information, but had been unable to because the treasurer had not given her sufficient information to answer any of the questions she was asked. She felt that as Finance chair she was not able to be effective because she was never given timely information from the treasurer despite repeated requests.
To obtain information on the Voice budget, Ms. Getta traveled from Calgary to Edmonton to get the answers directly from AUSU records, along with President Jabbour. It was at this time that both council members became aware that none of the bookkeeping was being done directly by Mr. Dulai.
Mr. Dulai said that council had not told him exactly what he should be doing, and that if they would give him some specific tasks then he would be happy to comply. Ms. Getta and Ms. Moore stated that the treasurer should be doing the books, as well as performing other executive member functions like attending meetings and conferences, and interacting with students. Mr. Dulai countered that in his opinion the treasurer should not do the books as there was no way for council to know if he was being honest.
Ms. Getta angrily responded that Mr. Dulai continually asked to be told what to do, but countered all suggestions as improper.
VP Barg suggested that instead of seeking the resignation of Mr. Dulai, council should instead consider a reprimand. Several council members objected to this suggestion.
VP Barg then asked if the upcoming motion for dismissal, proposed by council member Moore, would request that Mr. Dulai be removed only as treasurer, or from council entirely, and a discussion ensued over whether or not removal from an executive position automatically required dismissal from council. Ms. Moore said that she had lost all faith in Mr. Dulai and would ask that he be removed from council entirely.
At this point, council member Mac McInnis asked ST Dulai if he would be submitting his resignation from his post as treasurer. VP Barg interjected that ST Dulai had not had sufficient time to consider his decision, nor had he been given time to compose or deliver a rebuttal. Ms. Moore noted that Mr. Dulai had known about the meeting and her upcoming motion for several days, and had plenty of time to prepare a response, and she was surprised that he had none to offer. Councillor McInnis stated that he had informed Mr. Dulai several days before that Mr. Dulai would be asked for his resignation at the council meeting. Mr. Dulai reiterated that he was not yet prepared to make a formal statement in his defence, and that many of the claims made against him did not sound like things that he would do or would say and he wished more time to investigate the claims.
VP Barg mentioned that council could not proceed with action against Mr. Dulai until he was given time to prepare an official defense, and council members Low and Jabbour both agreed that this was the proper procedure. President Jabbour reminded VP Barg that the motion for dismissal had not yet been presented and was only brought up for discussion. She confirmed that Mr. Dulai would be given the opportunity to make a statement at such time as a motion for dismissal was brought forward, and that he would be given advance notice so that he could prepare a statement.
VP Barg then asked what the options were for proceeding in this matter. President Jabbour listed three: Mr. Dulia could resign voluntarily from his position, he could remain on council subject to any adjustment that council wished to make, or Ms. Moore’s motion for dismissal could be brought forward at the next council meeting.
Treasurer Dulai noted that since the complaints were brought to him a week previous, he had made been involved in more council business, put in more time, and he emphasized that he had prepared the most recent set of financial statements himself, and that he was open to further suggestions from council.
VP Barg said she that as someone who has known Mr. Dulai for a long time, she is certain that his actions were the result of his conscientiousness, and concern for always doing things properly and in accordance with due diligence.
Treasurer Dulai reiterated that since the complaints had been brought to his attention that week, he had been performing more council duties and he had prepared the latest financial statement himself, but then a councillor noted that although Mr. Dulai had agreed to start doing the bookkeeping and said he would continue to do so, he still forwarded a request to council asking to have things go back to the old way with the accounting firm doing the bookkeeping. VP Barg noted that Mr. Dulai had experienced time pressures since beginning a new full time job, but President Jabbour countered that she had approached Mr. Dulai several times in recent months to ask if it would be appropriate for him to leave the executive and take on a regular councillors role in order to reduce his workload.
A heated exchange then occurred between Mr. Dulai and Ms. Getta, who felt that Mr. Dulai had been making inferences that President Jabbour was the reason he was being examined, and Mr. Dulai vehemently denied placing blame on any council member. The discussion became more heated, but was quieted by Nicholas Palamarchuk who pointed out that these comments were a matter of perspective, and that no conclusions could be drawn as to their meaning.
At this point Ms. Moore was asked if she intended to proceed with her motion, and she confirmed that she did. The motion was slated for presentation at the next council meeting. Council member Barg suggested that the motion was not clear, as it asked that ST Dulai be removed from his position as treasurer, but did specify that he be removed from council entirely. She again asked Ms. Moore to clarify if she wanted Mr. Dulai removed from his post as treasurer or from council entirely. Ms. Moore, said that if it the motion was unclear she would allow the motion to stand as only a request to remove him from his treasurer position.
Regarding the next agenda item, President Jabbour and VP Barg informed council of organizational changes within the CAUS [Council of Alberta University Students] organization, of which AUSU is a member. Due to intense recent activity related to tuition increases and other student concerns, CAUS has deemed it necessary to hire a full time staff member to handle requests for information and other administrative duties. This organizational change has necessitated larger donations from member universities, of amounts to be based on the number of full times students or full time equivalents at the university. For AUSU, this would mean an increase in our yearly fees from approximately $1,500.00 to $5,000.00. All AUSU members agreed that CAUS membership is extremely valuable for AU students, and that the organizational changes are reasonable and needed. The increase in CAUS donation was approved and will take effect next year.
In a related matter, President Jabbour discussed the upcoming CAUS Northern Alberta initiative, which would bring seminars about tuition increases and other post-secondary issues to high schools in the northern Alberta region. Some AUSU councillors have volunteered speak at these seminars, and Council approved a small donation to the initiative, of an amount to be determined after discussions with CAUS.
Next on the agenda was the relationship between The Voice and AUSU. In the past, The Voice was viewed as an entirely autonomous newspaper. In practice, this relationship proved to be difficult to maintain as the The Voice is entirely funded by AUSU, and it is also an important vehicle by which AUSU communicates with the AU student body. President Jabbour noted that in a traditional university the students’ union is much more accessible, but that at a distance university alternate means of communication become very important. It was proposed that from now on The Voice and AUSU be considered a partnership, although it was stressed that the voice would maintain absolute editorial autonomy. VP Barg clarified that if the Voice is to work closely with AUSU, it must be clear that AUSU cannot dictate what is published in the Voice, and that the Voice should be free to report on AUSU happenings.
The other items on the agenda included a item recommending an adjustment on the credits required for AUSU bursaries – which was tabled but not discussed, an update to the information sharing agreement with the university, a report on the progress of the AU grad student’s association, and the appointment of an AUSU representative to the AU employee awards committee. Councillor Mac McInnis agreed to represent AUSU on this committee.
Finally, The newly revised AUSU bylaws were tabled for the second time, for further consideration by councillors. Is expected that the new bylaws will be passed at the next council meeting, in time for students to examine and vote on at the upcoming AGM.
The meeting was adjourned around 9:00 pm.