Council Connection—February 17, 2022 Meeting

The meeting was called to order at 6:30 pm MST.  Executive Director (ED) Jodi Campbell was announced as the accessibility officer and Vice President Community and Wellness (VPCW) Natalia Iwanek gave the land acknowledgement.  All expected participants were present with the exception of Councillor Meredith Charlton who was missing with regrets.  The agenda for the meeting and the previous meeting’s minutes were approved unanimously.

Taking the Oath

After a few unsuccessful attempts in previous meetings, the time finally came for Indigenous Circle Representative Jo-Mary Crowchild-Fletcher to take the councillors’ Oath of Office.  President Stacey Hutchings got all the extant Councillors, Ms.  Crowchild-Fletcher, and the vice-presidents to chant along with her:

“I do solemnly swear that I will support, uphold, and defend the mission of the Athabasca University Students’ Union at Athabasca University.  I take this obligation freely and will adhere to and respect the bylaws, policies, and all other facets of the Union while doing the work to decolonize Athabasca University.  I will always strive to enhance the quality of the learning experience of AU students and all distance learners; while advocating for the unique needs of the AUSU membership and fulfilling my council duties with honesty and integrity.”

After the cacophonous recitation subsided, the Council proceeded to discuss revisions to AUSU policy.

Flexibility Under Strange Circumstances

Vice President Finance and Administration, Leah Campbell, addressed the group on changes to Policy 3.03 on By-Elections.  Specifically, policy 3.03.03 was augmented to read: “Where one or more executive offices are vacant and cannot be filled by the existing councillors, the Executive Committee will develop a work plan and a division of roles and responsibilities as defined by AUSU Bylaws, Policy 2.03 Responsibilities of Executive Councillors, and Policy 4.06 Annual Timeline and Executive Work Plans for approval at the following regularly scheduled Council meeting.  This plan may include holding a by-election for council vacancies and hosting an executive by-election following the Council by-election or hosting an additional executive by-election at a later date.”  VPFA Campbell summed this up by saying that the change allows for some options if an Executive resigns part-way through their term.

Director Campbell added some detail to her summary, saying, “The policy was redesigned in case we find ourselves in a similar situation in the future.”  He was referring to the recent resignation of Mr. Eldoma from his role of VPFA.  He continued, “Of course, Leah was the one who stepped into the role.  There was definitely a moment in time where if she hadn’t stepped up, we were sitting there going, ‘We’re in a situation where council has to go to an election.’ Obviously, with Leah coming on that did not happen.  Moving forward, I think one of the reasons that was motivating us to make this edit is because we identified something that could potentially put the association at risk.  In many ways, this offers us a plan to follow if we find ourselves in that situation again.  To clarify, what this policy is speaking to is a scenario in which there is a vacancy on the executive committee, no one on council can fill it, and suddenly the previous policy would say that we would have to move to a council election that would potentially put the current member’s positions at risk.  I think this is a unique aspect of policy that we were able to address, and I like the current form a lot more.”

Councillor Amber McDuffe wished to know if the Council wanted to clarify the clause “at a later date.” She wanted to know if the council could make the clause more specific, so that a future council wouldn’t use the new policy to delay appointment of a new person to the vacant seat until the next planned election.

Vice President External (VPEx) Karen Fletcher responded, saying, “We wanted to leave it ambiguous because, depending on the year and what the profiles of potential new candidates might be, the council might not want to be forced into a premature election.  Let’s say it’s five months until the next election and all the projects for that portfolio piece are already complete.  If no one on council wants to be an exec, or can’t, it allows us to have another way to divide up roles so there’s no by-election.  But we also wanted to leave it open for cases where, say, someone is interested to fill the role in a month, it will give the council the flexibility to wait for that candidate and not have an unnecessary by-election later.

Governance and Advocacy Coordinator Duncan Wojtaszek chimed in: “To supplement the Vice President, remember this policy only kicks in after an election has been held and no one on the council has put their hand up to take on the responsibilities of another role.  What we’ve added is only an ‘emergency only, break glass’ option in the case where no sitting Councillor is able to step into the role.” The changes to this policy were then passed unanimously.

Financial Oversight

VPFA Campbell broached the next topic of discussion by describing changes to Policy 6.06 dealing with the oversight mechanisms in place for managing the organization’s financial assets.  Aside from non-semantic changes, she indicated the main change was the addition of 6.06.05c, a statement requiring that the most recent AUSU credit card statement will be included in the monthly finance package that is prepared for and given to the Councillors.  She said, “This policy went through rigorous review earlier in the year.  We’re simply adding inclusion of Visa statements to the package, and this came out of the finance committee.”

Councillor McDuffe also had a question on this topic.  She was concerned about potential ambiguity regarding the phrasing “most recent AUSU credit card statement.” Her worry was that with the then-proposed phrasing, the Finance Committee, which meets quarterly, would only receive 4 out of 12 credit card statements.  She emphasized the importance of transparency, which would involve giving all relevant documentation to the Committee.

The Executive Director and Ms.  Campbell insisted that the Committee would indeed get all relevant credit card statements quarterly.  It seemed that she found her worries unaddressed by these comments, saying, “It’s just strange wording with what’s going to the Council and with the Finance Committee stuff.  It doesn’t seem as inclusive as what I was expecting.  I was expecting it to say that it would include all of the statements.  I get what you’re saying.  I know we’re sending out these packages to Council every month.  There’s no check and balance saying Council is looking at them.  For our monthly Council meeting, should we add something in saying that Councillors have to look at it so we have what the accountant was trying to get us to do, so everyone on council is reviewing the packages.  Yes, they’re sent out, but whether or not anyone opens them and looks at them is unknown, because there’s no follow-up or paper trail saying we’ve reviewed them.”

President Hutchings responded, “I would comment that VP Finance and Admin is tasked with that oversight overall.  They’ve been hired by the Council to do that job.  Council is a backup to hold them accountable.”

Mr.  Wojtaszek added, “I would be concerned if Council approved monthly financial packages every month.  Because then what happens if the Council approves something but the Finance Committee doesn’t.  I would rather there be a clear chain of procedures such that the Finance Committee doesn’t replicate the work of Council.  There might be a case where they’re making inconsistent decisions, and I would then be forced to make the decision about whose decision was authoritative.  Regarding the idea that we have to compel Councillors to read everything that they receive, that’s just as true of reports and supporting documents.  We could make a check and balance, something like replying to the Executive Director saying you definitely received them and reviewed them.  I would also be concerned about what’s the point of the Finance Committee, which is almost entirely made up of council members, if Council is also going to look at it on a monthly basis; it will make our meetings much longer if we’re going through the finances every single month.”

The Executive Director pointed out that the Council overrides anything that the Finance Committee does, so it would render the latter redundant to do it that way.  “I would ask Council, ‘Do you want to have that check and balance?’ I mean, if we’re going to start there, we just approved a bunch of policy changes…do you want to review all of those changes? I want to encourage us to think about it, but at the same time I want to ensure that Council knows that the levels of checks and balances we have for finance is very strong.  Even internally, we have four people who are overseeing those financial documents when they’re being created.  We’ve also got an elected official in VP Finance who is also reviewing them.  It’s their job to do that, and it’s my job to ensure they’re correct.  So, when we send the package out, it has the oversight we’re talking about, which is the ability of Council to monitor and oversee those transactions that take place.  I  would love to make sure that our Finance Committee retains their authority and ability to ask questions; that’s a big part of their role.  I understand it’s on a quarterly basis, that’s where we built those checks and balances in.  At one point Council didn’t get the full package that Finance did, and now they do to make it more robust.  They used to get about half as much as the Finance Committee did, where now they pretty much get the full month of documentation.  I lean on Council to make sure everything’s happening as it should, but I don’t know if it’s something we need to build into the policy.”

The proposed changes were then called to a vote, with only Ms. McDuffe voting against the motion, saying that she still thought because of the phrasing the policy needed to go back to the drawing board.

Miscellaneous

The Council also unanimously voted to add chairing the Awards Committee meetings to the VP Finance and Administration role.

And there was also a unanimous vote that dissolved the Student Advisory Committee.  Ms. Iwanek said, “We have really been working on what to do with SAC this term.  Recently, there has been low attendance to events and low participation rates in email threads.  In a way, SAC seems to have served its purpose.  Now we have many ways of getting information and data: more Council members, more Committees, which include members at large.  One of these Committees is Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion, which has 3 members at large, and there’s also the Member Engagement and Communications Committee.  We also have virtual student lounges that we do monthly or bimonthly, and AUSU student nights.  Hiring a Social Media Coordinator really helps, having that staff member we have many more ways of collecting data: surveys, an annual survey, and an extra one based on EDI.  Those are the reasons we came to the conclusion it should be dissolved.”

In addition, $181 remaining in a Health and Dental Fund was reallocated to Student Awards.

Ms.  Hutchings reported that, in part due to the advocacy of the Council of Alberta University Students, which AUSU contributes to, the provincial government is putting funding toward a provincial-wide survey to gather information on sexual violence and harassment in university communities.  She said the government is also contributing $2.5 million to support education and training on these matters.

Finally, Mr.  Campbell wished to bring attention to the incorporation of Eventbrite into AUSU’s events.  Participants will be able to register or RSVP through the service.  It will also allow them easier integration with their calendars and reminders for upcoming events.  He commented that using the service will look a lot more professional, and it has statistical elements inherent in it that will benefit the organization.  He also wanted to note that in the coming meeting will contain reports on the Food Assistance Program, which is reaching its first year milestone, and AUSU’s annual report.

The next meeting will be at 6:30 PM MST on March 17, 2022.  Please email governance@ausu.org for information on the Council or attending its next meeting.

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