A.S. officials voice budgeting process conflicts

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This year’s Associated Students Senate has effectively worked together on budget matters, despite recent friction and the contention by some that there is an inherent conflict of interest on some matters, according to several A.S. officers and senators.

With a 2004-05 budget of approximately $5.45 million, which initially included $378,055 in the Unallocated Reserves Account, and $50,481 in the Academically Related Reserves Account, the A.S. Senate has been busy awarding money to clubs, organizations and services. But many A.S. members agree they must do a better job of informing students of the financial support available to them through A.S.

“There are probably tons of organizations that don’t know we (not only) give out money annually, but during the year as well,” said A.S. President Cara Keith.

Students are aware they pay $60 to A.S. each semester, but they don’t know why, Keith said.

Keith said Public Relations and Marketing Coordinator Kevin Mojaradi works closely with the A.S. cabinet on marketing strategies. But sometimes senators do not do their part, she said.

“(Mojaradi) creates these things to promote A.S., but I don’t think (some senators) want to do what he suggests,” Keith said.

One possible reason a few of the senators do not promote A.S. as fully as they should is because they are focusing more on their own interests, Keith said.

“It seems that the only reason they are part of A.S. is so their club could get the money they wanted,” Keith said.

Students, clubs and organizations can formally request money from both the unallocated and ARRA accounts. The ARRA fund is primarily used for research and thesis work. The request then receives a recommendation from the A.S. Finance Committee, but those looking for funding can contest the recommended amount during the open forum of the A.S. meeting during which the request is scheduled as an action item. Senators are allowed to speak on behalf of a club or organization they are involved in during open forum, and can then vote on the matter.

Keith is a member of Alpha Xi Delta, and though she no longer has voting privileges as president, she said she thinks it would be a conflict of interest if she were to vote on any funding benefiting her sorority.

Legally, senators are allowed to vote on issues pertaining to any group, club or organization they belong to, as long as the item does not directly benefit them.

Keith was a senator last year, and said this year’s senate has been, in comparison, less polarized than last year’s group, and has approved a lot more funding for clubs and organizations with varying interests.

She said sometimes it seems as though the senate spends a lot of money, and she has seen days where $31,000 has been given away in a single afternoon.

“But I realized, this is the students’ money,” Keith said. “We don’t want to hold up this money in a bank account.”

A.S. Social and Behavioral Science II Senator Maria Rodriguez said she agrees with Keith that senators who are members of organizations outside A.S. sometimes vote on financial funding for those same organizations they are affiliated with.

“A lot of senators go up (during open forum) and say, ‘I’m part of this organization,'” Rodriguez said. “(I) don’t think it’s right.”

Rodriguez is a member of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlan. She said she told M.E.Ch.A members, when she was running for A.S., not to expect her to speak on the club’s behalf during open forum.

“I never, never, have gone up during open forum (to speak on behalf of M.E.Ch.A.),” Rodriguez said. Rodriguez said she is the only voting member on the senate who is a M.E.Ch.A. member.

M.E.Ch.A., through its annual budget and unallocated funding requests, has received a total of $22,140 to date this fiscal year. Part of that funding, $9,000, allowed M.E.Ch.A. to sponsor its national conference, attended by an estimated 1,000 people this past March.

A.S. Student Production and Campus Entertainment, a programming body operating with A.S. financial support, received $70,500 to plan the Big Show 5. The amount of funding has received criticism from a campus organization called CSUN United For Peace and Justice, which circulated these criticisms through its electronic e-mail listserv, and from A.S. Humanities II Senator Selene Salas.

Some of the other well-funded clubs include the Armenian Student Association, which has received a total of $13,858, and the American Indian Student Association, which has received a total of $11,210.

A.S. Director of Finance Chad Charton said he admires clubs like these that are well aware of the benefits A.S. has to offer, and who utilize its services.

“If you look at the annual budget, (these groups enjoy) a rich tradition on campus,” Charton said. “(Students) and groups who take the initiative to apply get the rewards.”

In his experience with A.S., Charton said when students and clubs request more money during open forum, they are often rewarded with more funds, because it shows the senate that the students care.

Charton did voice concerns that some clubs never seem to be satisfied with any amount of funding, and called such thinking “selfish.”

Regarding potential conflict of interest in senators voting on issues that relate to clubs or organizations they belong to, Charton had a different take.

“(Often), the various clubs and organizations fall under the confines of their (greater) constituency,” Charton said. “You want those senators to be involved.”

Charton said he believes senators owe it to their constituency to vote as they deem fit.

“You could only hope they contemplate the actions they take on behalf of thousands of people,” Charton said.