Puzzled over leadership

Photo Credit: Damon Arnold

Controversy in politics may lie closer to Rattler nation than at Washington, D.C.’s 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

For nearly a year, the question of who is leading Florida A&M University’s Student Government Association has been in question. And just when it seemed to be resolved on Jan. 11 – after Justin Bruno and Devin Harrison were sworn in as SGA president and vice president – the student senate held an emergency meeting to reverse the decision.

“The president and vice president appointment was invalid because the electoral commission did not follow the guidelines of the law,” said student Attorney General Jeremiah Carter.

Carter told students that an SGA president nor vice president can be selected without a formal vote. Both Bruno and Harrison were sworn in after Electoral Commissioner Adrienne Floyd unilaterally approved for the two to be deemed to the top spots after a year of legal wrangling in a highly contested race where questions were raised about votes at the Orlando law school.

Since Carter made his announcement: Floyd resigned. FAMU administrators took sides by saying the decision will not return back to the students. Bruno and Harrison have actively participated in university proceedings, according to their positions. Meanwhile, acting SGA President Jaylen Smith – who ascended to the position in May 2016 due to the order of succession —  and his acting vice president Paris Ellis are still on contract. The two have been performing their respective duties in the SGA office but they have been physically removed from the SGA complex.

“(Dr. William Hudson, vice president of student affairs) doesn’t have a legal obligation to respond to you after he already made his decision,” Angela Colman, FAMU dean of students said. “There will be no new election — that is not an option at this point.”

Colman’s statement clashes against the memorandum the university sent out to the FAMU community on Jan. 12, the week Bruno and Harrison were sworn in. In the memo from the university it says, “The SGA has the authority to self-govern pursuant to Florida law and the Florida Board of Governors’ regulation. The university’s administration looks forward to working with SGA representatives.”

Student Senate President Brandon Johnson has problems with the administrators back and forth interference.

“It’s irresponsible of administration to dabble in and out of a student matter whenever they feel like it,” he said. “You all said it was a student issue. But you want to bully us into accepting your faulty decision.”

Poor communication

Johnson’s problem with administration is that no one has clarified issues directly with student government. He says his emails have gone unanswered and he is working from SGA policies.

“Our documents say that if only one qualified ticket is in a race, that ticket must be put on a ballot against none of the above,” Johnson said.

Johnson, however, isn’t the only one left in the dark. Acting Student Government President Paris Ellis claimed that she and SGA President Jaylen Smith have been robbed of their due process as they were sworn in to the positions permanently.

“As the student body vice president, I have not received any correspondence from anyone in administration or the electoral commission,” Ellis said. “I have not been removed from my seat by any legal terms — nor, have any been made party to any goings on to these proceedings.”

Ellis added she has not been made officially aware of the change in leadership and she wishes university administration would communicate effectively with the student body.

Actual power of student government

Ellis is being backed up by her counterpart, Jaylen Smith.

Smith said, “As student leaders, we take an oath to uphold these governing documents that protect the autonomy of not only student government but also the rights of the student body.”

Even if an official election took place, student leaders still contend that they are in unchartered territory when it comes to removing Smith and Ellis from office.

“The supreme court issued a decision March 31 (2016) that stated the order of succession would be enacted,” Pro Tempore Kenidee Webster said. “We have nothing in our documents that can remove (Smith and Ellis) from office unless they break the code of conduct or mess up academically.”

Webster also said that she intended to hire outside counsel for the SGA after she claimed that the university general counsel has been of little help to student leadership.

“We have made several attempts to ask general counsel for guidance in this matter and have gotten nowhere. I am writing an allocation to hire outside counsel to advise us on the law and our options as it pertains to our case,” Webster said.

At one point, SGA and Commissioner Floyd agreed to hold a new election. That’s when Colman told them that wouldn’t take place.

“The decision has been made in writing now — you can’t just go back on it,” Colman said about deeming Bruno and Harrison as president and vice president.

A week ago, the electoral commission gathered and in a 6-2 decision decided to not have a new election. At that meeting, Floyd announced her resignation.

“Deciding to resign, was not a form of quitting due to the backlash I have received,” said Floyd. “Despite the mere fact of what people may think, as a graduating senior, it is time that I shift my focus and channel my energy to my life after FAMU.”

Prior to her resignation, the student senate voted to impeach her in a 7-6 decision with four abstentions.

“We admit that we didn’t think of the order of succession or the other problems when we made the decision,” Floyd said. “The documents are very messed up and we just made the best decision we could with what we had.”

What’s next?

As a result of the indecision over the presidency, students recognize Jaylen Smith while administrators recognize Justin Bruno. Only the SGA president, however, can sign official documents detailing what organizations and entities get funding. Plus, only the president can make appointments to the student supreme court, which means all elections will be postponed until the court is filled.

Elections, that would determine all positions for the 2017-2018 school year, were postponed. They were scheduled to start this week.

SGA Director Brandi Tatum said that all sides would have to come together to find a resolution to the order of succession.

“We are in a position where we’re going to have to do something trailblazing,” Tatum said. “We need to get both Bruno/Harrison and Smith/Ellis together and decide what happens should this all take place.”