Council Connection—January 18th Meeting

On Thursday, January 18, the AUSU Council met, with the exception of Councillor Allie Wojtaszek and Councillor Cilhane Ahmed, both of whom had sent their regrets and were unable to attend.  Also present this time were the auditors AUSU hires to go over its books.  As a note, the post secondary learning act requires that every student association undertake a yearly audit of their finances to be sure that students aren’t being defrauded of their contributions.  AUSU’s auditors are the firm of KRP, and have been for several years now.

After the usual opening actions of acknowledgements, agenda, and minutes, the auditors took the virtual stage to present their findings.  While they usually provide a clean bill of health for the organization, this year it was especially noted.  In most of the years that I’ve been present for the auditor’s report, while AUSU generally receives a clean audit report, they usually contain suggestions for how security or care could be made better, with some risks that the organization didn’t need to have.  This is the first year that I can recall where they had no suggestions as to how things could be better done.  So congratulations to the staff and the team making sure everything is on the up and up.

Policy changes this time involved the student awards policy which had two major changes.  The first was the inclusion as a regular award of the 2SLGBTQIA+ Award, one each award season for $1000.  The second was that the dates of the spring AUSU awards were adjusted from April 15 – May 31 to April 1 – 30, so it starts a little earlier and runs for a little less time. This change was the subject of significant discussion at the previous meeting, and apparently between the meetings as well, as the motion passed unanimously with no discussion at all.

With all the good news from KRP, you’d think Council would like to keep them around a bit longer, but Councillor Amber McDuffe started the ball rolling asking if there shouldn’t be a request for proposals, as AUSU’s been served by KRP for a lot of years, and it was probably good practice to rotate auditors once in a while to be sure that people aren’t just getting in a rut and checking the same things each time.  Executive Director Jodi Campbell pointed out that even within KRP, the actual person who does the audit each year is different. However, it was also noted that it’s possible AUSU could be getting a better deal for its audits as it hadn’t looked around in quite a few years.  As a result, Council moved to start the RFP process for the 2024 audit services.  So, let that be a warning to the next company AUSU hires, don’t give too good a review!

Next came the largest section of the meeting. This was the entering of the report from the Executive Compensation Review Committee (ECRC). Again, some background may be useful.  As each two year term comes close to its end, Council establishes the ECRC.  It’s comprised of three of the non-executive councillors and the Executive Director.  Their task is to research around the province and country what other student associations are paying their executive teams, and then make a recommendation as to what AUSU’s executives should be paid in the next term.  This serves to avoid some difficulties where AUSU chose its own compensation based on a very ad-hoc process.  Personally, I refused a suggested pay bump when I served on AUSU Council as the President, as at the time our salary expenses for executives and council were among the highest in the province, if not the country, and I noted I wasn’t willing to add to my wage (and have to try to justify it to students) unless it was compensated by the wages of other Councillors going down.  (Since then, Council has moved to a different structure for paying councillors as opposed to Executives, and the costs have come down considerably.)

This time, the report came in and suggested that the executive wages increase by a dollar per hour, an increase of approximately 4% on their current rate of $24.50/hour.  This means that the president, who is given a 35 hour work week, moves from $44,590 to $46,410, and each vice-president moves from $38,220 to $39,780.  The committee noted that this is somewhere in the midpoint of post-secondary student associations in Alberta, and is roughly equivalent to the amount of inflation over the past two years.  No changes to any of the other benefits, such as health care or allowances for home office use, were recommended.  What caused discussion, however, was the recommended adjustment to banked hours.  Here we move into some real inside baseball, so hang on to your hats.

AUSU executives tend to do a lot. They take on a lot of administrative and research work that other student associations (or associations in general) hire staff or outside contractors to do.  A lot of this work also comes in batches, such as when they have to fly to various conferences and political meets to advocate for changes that will specifically help distance based students.  This means that they can ring up a lot of overtime.  Now, normally, AUSU does not pay overtime. Instead, they’re told to take extra time off.  The exception to this is at the end of the term, when an AUSU councillor leaves, any banked overtime they haven’t taken time off for they’ll get paid for—within limits.  It’s those limits that started the discussion.  The current limits are a total of 30 hours will be paid for, and whenever an executive member has over 30 hours banked, they are required by policy to present a plan as to how they’ll reduce those hours.

The ECRC recommended that these limits be reduced to 15.  After 15 hours of banked time, they have to get that plan together, and AUSU would not pay out any more than 15 banked hours. The executive noted that they didn’t think this was a good idea, as there were often conferences that occurred in the early spring where they would end up banking significant hours, even if they had kept up to date otherwise.  This could take them over the limit of 15, which would mean they’d have less incentive to do much in the last months of their term, even though things can get hectic as potential new councillors take on job shadowing and the elections themselves require additional work.  It was noted that we are the only post-secondary students association that has a banked hour policy at all, regardless of the limits.  There was a lot of discussion on the issue and on the philosophy behind it, including Councillor Amber McDuffe voicing her dissatisfaction that the executive wages were so low in the first place, especially when compared with any organization of similar size aside from students’ associations. This came as a bit of a shock, as she is often the Councillor who is quickest to voice concerns about potential wastage of resources.  In the end, Council decided that the changes in the banked time limits would not be included, and accepted the  other recommendations of the report.  Councillor Blake Collett, who was a member of the ECRC, was the sole vote against.

Then, after filling some vacant council seats on the Awards and Finance committee with Councillor Karen Fletcher, they moved to the reports, which, as it was already fairly late, sped by with councillors and staff alike declining to add any additional information.   Finally came the acknowledgement section.  This is, in some ways, a morale building section of the meeting where councillors congratulate each other and staff on their performance, and I usually don’t bother reporting on it.  This time, however, it was mentioned that at the recent CASA Advocacy week people kept coming up and pointing out how well the AUSU team was doing in providing leadership, ideas, and work to CASA. I thought that might be worth a nod.

The next council meeting is next week, February 15, 2024.  You can still attend if you want to, just email and let them know you’d like to see how council operates. With the AUSU election not far off, and the wages recently raised, it might be worth a look.