SGA president fires 4 election judges
2 dismissed election-board members say action motivated by politics
| Marcus Clem editor in chief |
Pittsburg State’s Student Government Association is embroiled in controversy after Taylor Gravett, SGA president, sacked several of the assembly’s student election monitors after they voted to disqualify the Letner/Hebrlee party from this year’s ballot.
On the morning of Friday, April 4, Gravett informed Sen. Lindsay Ong, SGA co-chair of elections, that she had been removed from her position. Also removed were Joshua Packard, SGA public relations director; Sen. James Saltat, Ong’s co-chair; and Sen. Audrey Gilbreath.
Gravett then announced that Kiki Eigenmann, SGA vice president, would assume a new role as chair of the elections board.
Gravett and Eigenmann have both endorsed the Letner/Hebrlee party, but Gravett says he is handling his role as the top governor of elections without bias.
“Ultimately, whoever is after me will do a good job,” he said.
Letner/Hebrlee at issue
The SGA elections board’s vote came on Thursday, April 3, after Jake Letner, SGA Big Event director and candidate for president, was accused of criticizing his rival for the presidency, Sen. Jordan Schaper of Gorilla Alliance, too aggressively.
SGA strictly prohibits “personal attack” campaigning in its guidelines for the 2014 election, which will be open on GUS from Tuesday, April 8, to Thursday, April 10.
On Monday, March 31, Letner promoted his party during a meeting of the Student Athletic Advisory Council (SAAC), a group of officials and student athletes that assists the Athletics Department.
Letner says that at that meeting, he criticized what he sees as Gorilla Alliance’s opposition to increased support for athletics.
“I did not mean to personally attack anyone,” Letner said. “I meant to attack a position held by Schaper that is detrimental to athletes.”
A student athlete and member of SAAC later testified to the elections board about Letner’s criticism. The board initially voted 4-3 to disqualify the Letner/Hebrlee party before reaching a 6-1 majority as required by SGA’s election guidelines.
Sen. Jaci Gilchrist, Gorilla Alliance vice presidential candidate, says her party did not act out of “spite or malice” in reporting Letner’s criticism to the elections board as an alleged violation of the prohibition on negative campaigning.
“We do not want a single person voting misinformed,” she said in a statement. “People need to be held accountable. Processes need to be respected; rules need to be followed.”
After her removal, Ong filed a brief to SGA’s judicial board asking for Gravett’s decision to be overturned. The judicial board, headed by Kaitlyn Herder, is also expected to rule in the near future on the vote to disqualify Letner/Hebrlee.
“It was not an easy decision,” Ong said. “I verbally warned both parties: ‘Keep your opponent’s name out of your mouth.’ Letner didn’t do that; we kicked him out because of it.”
Packard, Schaper, Gilchrist and Rodney Kimlin, SGA treasurer, who is still on the board, say they agree with Ong.
Kimlin says there’s no question in his mind that Letner violated elections rules in a way that mandated his party’s disqualification.
“We interviewed people, we got testimony and we came to the conclusion that he had (done) it on purpose,” Kimlin said. “Later, members of the elections board were harassed, were being called out. That made Jake look even more guilty than he was.”
Letner says the elections board didn’t offer him enough chance to defend himself.
“This disqualification was unwarranted,” he said, “especially because there was no disciplinary measures taken against me before this process.”
Gravett says that the elections board’s decision “crossed a line,” and made a critical decision about the election “too late in the game.”
“The verdict that the original elections board reached in disqualifying Jake Letner and Jaecy Hebrlee from running is one that is really unfounded,” Gravett said. “I have to make sure that both sides are getting a fair shot.
“We need to make sure that the students have the ability to decide who is running student government, not a board of seven people.”
Packard says he was upset at what he says was Gravett’s decision to initially inform only Ong of the decision to end Packard’s role on the elections board.
“I only found out from someone else who was on the elections board,” he said. “I find that the fact that this wasn’t communicated to me personally shows a lack of character.”
Packard added that he will seek reinstatement to the elections board through an appeal to Herder’s judicial board.
“Taylor will probably consider me biased,” he said, “but I say that whoever he puts in there will certainly be more biased than myself.”
Kimlin also takes issue with Gravett.
“I wholeheartedly believe that Taylor is manipulating the system for (the Letner/Hebree party’s) gain,” he said.
Letner says he strongly disagrees with this viewpoint, but he is not surprised to hear it, given SGA’s internal politics.
“Of course they feel that way,” he said. “I know Taylor really well, and I know that he would never do something like that. And I do not feel in any way that this is what is going on.
“I’m sorry that these people feel this way about their president … I’ve dedicated a lot of time and energy to this organization. I hate to see it reach this point where it is so dramatic.”