A press release delivered by former Electoral Commissioner Adrienne Floyd on Jan. 11 set Florida A&M University’s Student Government Association on its head and dramatically altered the function of campus operations.
The announcement of Justin Bruno and Devin Harrison as respective president and vice-president of SGA six months into the school year sparked a whirlwind of responses, including the subsequent resignation of Floyd, the impeachment of Bruno and Harrison and–most noticeably –the repeated delay of elections.
Originally scheduled to take place the week of January 30, elections were first postponed due to Floyd’s resignation and a lack of quorum on the Student Supreme Court.
According to student body President Justin Bruno, the inability to meet several “prerequisites” led to internal inefficiencies within SGA and ultimately the date changes for the annual election process.
“Elections were supposed to be started a while back but originally the delay was that there was not a proper quorum in the Student Supreme Court. When I took office there were only three duly appointed members on the Student Supreme Court,” Bruno said.
Five justices on the court constitutes a quorum in order for that body to convene and move forward with approving election rules and procedures.
On Feb. 7, things became more complicated when the Senate passed a motion to impeach both Bruno and Harrison under the grounds that the decision made by the court and the FAMU administration to formalize the installation of Bruno as president superseded Senate statutes. The directive states that a formal vote must take place prior to swearing in Bruno and Harrison, a step that Floyd bypassed.
According to SGA law, interim President Jaelyn Smith and Interim Vice-president Paris Ellis cannot be removed from their positions unless they are either impeached or resign from the position.
Neither of which has happened.
In a memorandum sent on Jan. 21, Smith issued a statement on the matter.
“On February 6, 2017, the 46th Student Senate made a motion to officially recognize Justin Bruno and Devin Harrison, before removing myself and Paris Ellis from the respective positions of President and Vice-President. Per the requirements for the removal/impeachment of an elected—or appointed—student official, as outlined above, on what grounds is it constitutional to proceed with the order of succession if no charges of misfeasance, malfeasance, and/or nonfeasance have been made, nor tried, against I, Jaylen Smith, as President, and Paris Ellis as Vice-President of the Student Government Association of Florida A&M University?”
The result has been a balkanized Senate where who is recognized as the acting president and vice-president varies from person to person.
“When I originally tried to make my appointments those were delayed. Well, at first they were not recognized. And then once they were finally recognized my appointments were able to get through, get appointed, get confirmed and then get sworn in,” said Bruno.
He continued, “But then there was the question, that even though I appointed my two members to the court – so we had a quorum with five members – there was no chief justice.”
Senate Pro Tempore Kenidee Webster expressed her sentiments on how the shift in administration contributed to the road blocks SGA faced in executing spring elections.
“We didn’t have a chief justice because our chief justice was removed by our president, Bruno,” said Webster. “The Student Supreme Court has the authority to approve the election rules and procedures. When they didn’t approve the procedures that had us at standstill for weeks.”
According to Bruno, senior court justice Alexis Ritchie was placed in the position of Chief Justice and recently approved.
At a meeting held on March 21, the Student Supreme Court entertained the election rules and procedures. A follow-up meeting was hosted on March 23 to have final changes approved.
As it stands the dates for the 2017 campaign and election week will take place March 20 through April 6.
With newly appointed Electoral Commissioner Bria Jefferson in place, the hope is that this election will not present the same issues SGA is currently feeling the repercussions from.
Last spring it was a discrepancy in votes at FAMU’s College of Law in Orlando for the 2016-2017 presidential race that led to months of election disputes, lawsuits, appeals and administrative gridlock.
A year later, Senate Elections & Appointments Chair Dajuh Sawyer says this time around the student body can expect things to be very different.
“That was a very big thing, so definitely this year just making sure we have the proper people down there [in Orlando] to provide that and to ensure that this doesn’t happen again,” said Sawyer. “We have that covered, someone will be down there supervising and making sure the proper procedures are being followed through.”
Webster speaks highly of Electoral Commissioner Jefferson and has high hopes for a smoother election under under her direction.
“Her and her team have done a heck of a job,” Webster said. “When it comes to approaching them, when it comes disseminating information they don’t withhold anything from the student body they try to put everything out on time or whenever they get it. They’ve been meeting unofficially for three or weeks now to make sure this election happens by working hand in hand with the senate.”
She finished, “I trust her leadership, I look forward to this election season, and I’m just hoping we can get those results out before graduation.”