Council Connection – AGM Survivors

The May 27th AUSU Annual General Meeting

It’s one thing to know?just know?that your trusted partner is cheating on you. It’s quite another to hear it from their own lips. The certain knowledge of betrayal?even though not a surprise?brings gut-wrenching dismay.

That’s how I felt at the May 27 AUSU Annual General Meeting (AGM) when AUSU Council President Shawna Wasylyshyn confirmed that, while the Executive Director’s position was vacant for six months, then-president of council Jason Nixon was being paid that position’s salary. While students may have already suspected this, having it confirmed is still a shocker to some. Although Wasylyshyn stated that Nixon stopped receiving his council honorarium at the same time he began receiving salary for a staff position, council refused to answer questions about how much was paid to him during that period.

Drama was in abundance at Wednesday’s AGM, which exceeded the four-hour mark before wrapping up at 9:47pm (MST.) The meeting had barely begun before two members requested that additional discussion items be added to the agenda, the first to address bylaw violations, and the second to address AUSU finances. The latter item turned out to be a vital addition in light of what happened next.

The agenda already had an item for annual financial statements, which is normally the point at which members can ask about financial information presented in the AUSU Annual Report. The annual report includes the previous year’s financial statements, the current year’s budget, and comments regarding AUSU activity in general. However, council would not permit any questions about financial activity not explicitly contained in the audited financial statements for the year ended September 30, 2014.

Members attempted to ask questions about why council pay increases were approved despite not being in the budget, and whether the former council president received any of the Executive Director’s wages while that position was vacant for an extended period. Those asking questions were told firmly by Chairperson Wasylyshyn that they could not pose those questions at this time but they could bring them forward later in the meeting under the newly-added agenda item to discuss AUSU finances. Since there were few questions regarding financial activity prior to October 2014, the audited financial statements and appointment of the auditor for 2014-2015 were voted on and approved with minimal discussion.

The meeting kicked into high-drama mode with the next agenda item. Member Philip Kirkbride opened a discussion on the violation of AUSU bylaws. Kirkbride noted that there had been a number of bylaw and policy violations in the past six months. He stressed that there is no allowance for bylaw violations as bylaws are the only things ensuring that students have a voice on important matters. The penalty for bylaw violation is expulsion from the union.

Kirkbride then outlined some of the bylaw violations he felt had taken place; a summary of his comments follows:
– Bylaw 9.3.2 was violated when council made changes to the election policy on February 11 without the required 21-days notice to members.
– Bylaw 5.3.1 (b) was violated when council failed to give direct e-mail notice to its members of the AGM (both the original date of April 21 and the subsequent date of May 27.) There was also a requirement to give details of any special resolutions for the AGM to all members 21 days in advance, but only members who registered to attend the AGMs were given details on those resolutions.
– Bylaw 7.5 was violated when council interfered with The Voice Magazine by having the April 17 issue pulled from the magazine’s website without the managing editor’s consent. Under bylaw 7.5, The Voice operates autonomously and council may not interfere with its operations.
– There are no provisions in AUSU’s bylaws to cancel an AGM and the April 21 AGM should not have been cancelled. There are provisions in the bylaws on how to proceed in the absence of council members; the Apr 21 meeting should have gone forward.

Each item was discussed as it was brought forward. In most cases, the council members who spoke pled ignorance of the bylaws, or felt that their actions were justified in spite of the bylaws. Kirkbride concluded by making a motion to expel those AUSU members chiefly responsible for the bylaw violations, namely Shawna Wasylyshyn, Corrina Green, and Jason Nixon.

After the motion was seconded, non-member Titus Gregory advised that the motion was not allowable under Alberta laws. Gregory, who was introduced at the beginning of the meeting as an advisor to council on parliamentary procedure, advised that only a non-binding resolution could be made. After much discussion, such a motion was proposed. Council members then asked for the motion to be separate for each member named, and further that each of the subsequent three motions list all the bylaws each of the members were said to have violated.

The meeting had gone on for close to three hours by this point. In the delay while Kirkbride gathered information to provide the necessary information as requested, one council member who did not identify herself before speaking, unleashed a tirade against Kirkbride for the delay, accusing him of being disrespectful and unprepared. Despite this distraction, the motions were finally presented with the requested changes and they were then put to a secret e-mail ballot. All three motions passed.

The next agenda item was a discussion of AUSU’s finances. Member Sheldon Fougere opened the discussion by saying that students have expressed concern over wages and expenses at AUSU. Members present at the meeting asked questions of council regarding the recent pay increases for the council executive, but did not seem satisfied with the answers as to why the increases were approved and why they were not budgeted for. Council was also asked if former AUSU council president Jason Nixon was paid any of the salary of the Executive Director’s (ED) position. Council President Shawna Wasylyshyn confirmed that Mr Nixon received the ED salary during the period when there was no ED on staff but that he ceased receiving his council honorarium. Council was asked how much money was paid to Mr Nixon during that period; council declined to answer.

Following this discussion, Fougere proposed a motion that AUSU engage an audit firm to conduct a forensic audit to determine if AUSU funds were managed according to AUSU bylaws and Alberta laws. The motion was declared to be out of order after council’s advisor Mr. Gregory advised that the membership could not direct council to undertake such an audit. The motion was amended to be a recommendation to council and after discussion was passed with only one vote in opposition.

The next two agenda items were recommendations to approve changes to Policy 3.04 and section 4.5 in AUSU’s bylaws. After a discussion between meeting chair Shawna Wasylyshyn and advisor Mr Gregory, both motions were declared out of order and removed from the table. The reason given was that both motions require all members to be given proper notice of the proposed changes and such notice had not occurred.

As the meeting neared the four hour mark, only two agenda items remained, with one of them being what must have been for most the much-desired adjournment. While it was close to 9:30 pm MST, students in other time zones were struggling to keep awake. When it was discovered that no report had been prepared for the penultimate agenda item, the presentation of the AUSU Annual Activity Report, councillors improvised with a review of projects underway at AUSU, including the previously announced mobile app, a proposed mental health plan, and upgrades to the website.

At 9:47 pm the meeting was adjourned, making it the longest AUSU AGM in memory. In Ontario, where I live, it was almost midnight. In addition to the six AUSU councillors present, there were eight other AUSU members; I believe all 14 hung in there until the adjournment was called, making them AGM survivors.

For Sheldon Fougere, an AU student living in Eastern Canada, the meeting ended at 12:47 am. Asked the following day why he had put forward the motion for a forensic audit, Sheldon said, “I put the motion forward in an effort to provide a fair and equitable way for all involved to get the information that was being asked for in a variety of ways. An independent third party seemed to be the best route. I was glad to hear that the President and Vice President – Finance and Administration would welcome such a process.”

Five time zones to the west, AU student Philip Kirkbride phoned in from Alaska to attend Wednesday’s meeting. Contacted the following day about his motion?which turned into three motions?Kirkbride said, “I felt that students needed to hold council accountable for breaking bylaws. While council is an important role in itself It’s also training grounds for potential provincial and federal politicians. My biggest fear is that someone who abused the system would go on to do the same thing at a higher level of government.”

It’s not clear what the next steps are for the resolution arising from Mr Fougere’s motion recommending a forensic audit. Similarly, the resolution stemming from Mr Kirkbride’s motions that AUSU recognize that three members of AUSU violated bylaws has an uncertain future. Although AUSU bylaw 4.6.1 states that membership shall cease upon a failure to comply with the bylaws, that clearly hasn’t happened (does this in itself create a bylaw violation? Just asking.)

The AUSU Annual General Meeting is over, but it appears that the AUSU drama may not be. Stay tuned.