Council Connection—January 16, 2020 Meeting

The AUSU Council Meeting took place Thursday, January 16th, 2020 at 6:30 pm-8:30 pm MDT. All Councillors were in attendance. Key items for the council at this meeting were reviewing the 2019 Auditors findings; voting AUSU Bylaw revisions into effect; voting the recommendations of the Executive Compensation Review Committe into effect, reviewing actions taken regarding addressing the 7% tuition hike for students, as well as the growth of the AUSU Podcast and YouTube channel.

The meeting was officially brought to order at 6:33pm.

Samantha Crowhurst, the Voice’s interim Council Meeting Reporter introduced herself, noting that she was from Toronto and currently taking WMST courses at AU. Aside from her, only AUSU staff and Councillors were in attendance.

With no action items outstanding, the meeting moved quickly to the meat of it, which began with the presentation of the audited financial statements by the accounting firm Kingston, Ross, Pasnak, or KRP as it’s more commonly known.  KRP representative, Chad, was present to answer any questions that Councillors might have about the findings. He noted in his presentation that the audit overall “was a clean audit with no major findings. … We were happy with [AUSU] management, Jodi, Brandon, and Brittany.”

In the audit statement, there is a chart that lists significant deficiencies identified during the course of the audit. There were only two entries in this chart, the first was that “Due to the nature of the organization, there are certain deficiencies in the design and implementation of internal controls.”  President Brandon Simmons took the opportunity to ask if there were specific examples of these deficiencies that could be listed so that AUSU could possibly work on them.

Chad responded that any specific, actionable deficiencies would have been noted if there had been any. The note in the audit is more to reflect that AUSU has a very small control group in place to mitigate issues (ie, by performing more double-checking, or having individuals with higher authority sign-off on expenses by lower authorities) and that, in an organization the size of AUSU, this is not unexpected.  He noted “You would need a few more people for the ‘perfect controls’”, but also that, “I don’t think there ever are really ‘perfect controls.’”

It would seem that, for this noted deficiency, the initial clause of “Due to the nature of the organization” is a key point of the sentence.

The second deficiency noted is that some of the invoices, while stamped for approval and signed, were not also dated.  AUSU had already agreed to do this in future and will stress the importance of it to any staff.

Chad and KRP were thanked for their work, with a special notice going out to Georgia, a KRP employee who was new to working with AUSU’s books, and so brought a fresh set of eyes to better spot any issues that may have occurred.

The next item on the agenda was for AUSU to decide if they should keep the same auditor firm for another year. It was noted that any concerns that people might have with the auditor being too familiar with AUSU’s budget and operations (and hence perhaps making assumptions instead of verifying), were dealt with by KRP’s practice of switching auditors for the accounts every once in a while, as evidenced by Georgia this year.  Also brought up is that AUSU’s systems are all in compliance with KRP’s recommendations now, and while most of that should hold for any auditing firm, different firms might have different ideas about how some things should be classified. But what AUSU has now is working well for the organization.  Finally, it was brought up that changing auditors might also cause additional expenses as a complete lack of familiarity with various systems can result in the new firm having to take a long time to ensure everything is working appropriately.

That these notes were brought forward made me wonder if perhaps there’s been some talk among AUSU as to whether it might be advantageous to move to new auditors as a form of double-checking KRP’s work, since AUSU has retained them for several years now.  Regardless, the motion passed unanimously.

Next on the agenda were the revisions to the bylaws of AUSU.  It was noted that AUSU held the required consultation periods and open forums for people to contact them with any questions or concerns about the nature of the changes, but no students chose to attend.

The bylaw changes have removed the requirement of a GPA minimum to run for AUSU Council, and have also removed a requirement of having to be a student for a certain number of months per year while on AUSU Council, both steps taken to increase eligibility of the diverse student body of AU. For instance, these changes will allow students who have found difficulty with their first courses (and so have a low GPA) the ability to run for Council.

The motion passed unanimously.

Council then addressed two polices, the policy on Member Representatives on AUSU committees, where they expanded the timeline AUSU had to confirm appointments and the policy on Councillor Honoraria, where they codified the current practice of any changes to honoraria only taking effect following an election.

The last item before the Council Reports was to accept the recommendations of AUSU’s Executive Compensation Review Committee (ECRC).  This committee had spent the last few months examining wages, and executive duties, benefits, and responsibilities at the other students’ associations in the province and beyond to come up with a final recommendation of a wage increase of about 4.5% for the executive positions based on the consumer price index of approximately 2.3% per year in Alberta over the past two years, and with the current AUSU Executive pay scale already being near the median for Alberta students’ union representatives.

The committee also investigated other possibilities such as changing the number of executives, but determined that this was probably not necessary at this time, as there seemed to be a good balance of the needed work getting done without significant idle periods for the Executives. It was also noted that expansion of the Executive group would likely require expansion of support staff, all of which costs students more, so there needs to be a clear benefit to doing so.

These wage increases mean that the AUSU President will earn, after the next AUSU election, 41,860/yr, and the AUSU Vice-Presidents will each earn 35,880/yr, plus an additional benefit of a reimbursement expense of $85/month for expenses incurred by working at home (telecommunications costs, printing/stationary costs, etc). This reimbursement expense has been increased by $5/month from the previous rate of $80/month to reflect the higher costs of these items.

The last change which was noted in the recommendations of the ECRC, was to allow executives the option to participate in the Health & Dental plan currently provided to AUSU staff members, instead of staying with the current health & wellness benefit that accrues at $130/month for Executives.

It was noted by Executive Director, Jodi Campbell, that AUSU’s current budget should be able to absorb all of these changes.

One final discussion point brought forward was the discussion of AUSU Executive overtime, and if the extreme overtime that is sometime required might be leading to burn-out and problems with retaining talent in the executive group.  However, it was noted that AUSU provides allowances for overtime to be taken as banked time, and that most of this overtime is accrued while executives are at various conferences and events that Council feels strongly benefit the student body.  It was noted that perhaps executives need to be encouraged to make more use of their banked time.

That being the last discussion point brought forward, AUSU council voted unanimously to accept the recommendations of the report.

This, at 7:20pm, also ended the policy portion of the meeting, and councillor Sarah Blayney Lew expressed her regret at having to leave at that point to attend another meeting, and was excused.

AUSU then started discussing reports, and the largest issue by far was AU’s response to the Alberta Government cuts, which include a 7% hike in tuition for all students.  President Simmons noted in his report that during their consultation with the AU Board of Governors, they stressed that these types of increases are going to be difficult for many students, and are especially concerning when it comes to out of province students, as such an increase is beginning to price AU out of the market in other provinces.  While it is expected that the same increase will be proposed next year, Brandon is hoping that the arguments made this time have laid the groundwork to convince the board to perhaps lessen the increases demanded, at least for the out of province students.

The report of the Vice Presdident External and Student Affairs, Natasha Donahue, was up next, and she echoed President Simmons concerns with tuition. In addition to that, she discussed how the AUSU podcasts and AUSU YouTube channel were progressing, urging other member of Council to take the time to listen to the podcasts and watch the YouTube channel so as to be able to give additional feedback to help them improve.  Executive Director Jodi Campbell encouraged council especially to check out the Christmas YouTubed episode for some really funny segments.  It also noted that this was the segment that Natasha sang in.  It is possible that those two points are related, but we’re not going to judge that here.

The VP Fincance and Finance committee reports noted that, because of the holidays, there was not a lot of activity in their areas. As to awards, 135 applications had been received for the November awards deadline (which was processed during December) with only two computer bursaries and one emergency bursary awarded.

Finally the recent student survey had been completed and the results were going to be reviewed at the AUSU Executive retreat, which happened a couple of weeks ago, and it was noted that staff had been kept very busy dealing with the audit and preparations for the election.  Also, some new statistics about the Voice Magazine’s readership have been made available, and it was noted that many of the articles in the Voice Magazine’s archives continue to draw hits and readers from Google searches long after their initial publication date.

At 7:39, the meeting was adjourned with the next meeting scheduled for February 20, 2020.  As of this report, that time has changed to February 27, 2020.  Contact for details as to how to attend.