Montclair State SGA releases some money for student paper

NEW JERSEY — The Montclarion is printing its firstissue of the semester today after Montclair State University’s StudentGovernment Association voted Wednesday night to temporarily lift a freeze on thestudent newspaper’s budget.

In a meeting that lasted more than five hours, student legislators voted12-0, with seven abstentions, to allow The Montclarion to use some of itsfunds for the next 30 days. During that time, a university administrator isexpected to help mediate between the SGA and the paper.

SGA President Ron Chicken informed The Montclarion of the budgetfreeze in a letter on Jan. 22. The weekly paper could not print its first issueof the semester because of the freeze.

“I think that the legislature came up with a great compromise for the timebeing,” said Diana Salameh, the SGA’s chief of staff. “It was really the concernof the SGA to get the budget unfrozen to at least let The Montclarionpublish.”

But Montclarion Editor in Chief Karl de Vries said he isdisappointed by the vote because it is only a temporary release of the funds andthe paper only has access to part of its budget — enough to print thepaper and buy office supplies.

“This is to suggest that we are still in the wrong throughout all of this,”he said.

Chicken initially froze the funds because de Vries had refused to turn overcorrespondence between The Montclarion and its former attorney, Sal M.Anderton.

The dispute between SGA and the paper arose following Chicken’s claim thatthe paper improperly spent its funds by hiring Anderton to advise the paper onits claim that the SGA violated state open meeting laws. Although the SGA inprevious years had approved a budget item labeled “Montclarion legalfees,” Chicken said the paper’s agreement with Anderton had never been properlyauthorized by the SGA president. Chicken fired Anderton in November.

On Monday, the SGA’s attorney, Daniel Crowe, delivered a letter to TheMontclarion demanding the paper turn over all records relating to theservices Anderton provided within five business days. The paper has turned overall its records except private correspondence with Anderton, which is protectedunder attorney-client privilege, de Vries said.

Crowe, after hearing of upcoming negotiations between SGA and the paper,withdrew the demand in a letter sent to The Montclarion on Wednesday.

Mediation between the paper and the SGA, which could include legal counselfor the parties, should determine whether the paper, rather than SGA, hasattorney-client privilege, Salameh said.

University officials are confident the negotiations will succeed, althoughit may require more than one meeting, said Karen Pennington, Montclair State’svice president of student development and campus life.

“I think it will be successful to solve the immediate problem,” Penningtonsaid. “However I do think we will need to have continued conversation to see where we should goin the future, to see that we don’t have this problem again.”

After negotiations, legislators could decide to permanently unfreeze thepaper’s entire budget. Mediations will take place within 30 days, Penningtonsaid.

The Montclarion is in contact with attorneys from the American CivilLiberties Union, de Vries said. The paper has also sought an attorney throughthe Student Press Law Center’s Attorney Referral Network.