Student senate panel might have broken Oregon sunshine laws

OREGON — A University of Oregon student Senatecommittee disregarded the state’s open meetings law, according to studentgovernment President Sam Dotters-Katz.

The Associated Students of the University of Oregon Senate Over-RealizedCommittee conducted a meeting May 13 to begin evaluating student groups’requests for access to the university’s over-realized fund. The fund,which accumulates as enrollment unexpectedly increases, built up more than$735,000 for the 2007-08 academic year. The meeting, according to Dotters-Katzand Oregon Daily Emerald Editor in Chief Laura Powers, violatedOregon’s public reports and meetings law.

Powers said Patrick Boye, then chairman of the senate over-realized, didnot send notice of the meeting to the Daily Emerald or the general public24 hours in advance, as required by Oregon Revised Statue 192.640.

“This was the only meeting where notice was only sent out five hoursin advance. They know the rules, they just didn’t follow them in thisinstance,” Powers said.

Newly elected ASUO President Dotters-Katz said Boye and SenateOver-Realized Committee Vice Chairman Billy Hatch, neither of whom will returnto the ASUO Senate next year, carried on with the committee meeting because theyfelt no action could be taken against them.

“It was a case of them thinking that they just have two weeks left inthe Senate, and there’s no punitive damage that can be done since theirterms were nearly over,” Dotters-Katz said.

In an e-mail to the ASUO Senate, Boye said he did comply withOregon’s public meetings law when he contacted Daily Emerald

reporter Robert D’Andrea about the meeting. Powers responded by sayingeven if a student had seen a notice in the Daily Emerald the day of themeeting, that would not qualify as adequate public notice.

Powers objected immediately once the May 13 meeting began at 7 p.m. butsaid her objections were disregarded and the meeting continued under the guiseof an informal gathering.

“At one point, senators were doing a thumbs-up, thumbs-down vote andnever officially called the meeting to order,” Powers said. In a May 16Daily Emerald column, Powers said “essentially this constitutesvoting in secret, yet another blatant violation of the law.”

Immediately following the Senate committee meeting, Powers filed agrievance with the ASUO Constitution Court against Boye regarding the meeting.The Constitution Court ordered the Senate to not implement “any rule,policy or resolution currently under review in actions filed by Petitioner LauraPowers.”

ASUO Senator Nate Gulley, who was a member of the committee, said in ane-mail to the SPLC that on May 13, several members of the over-realizedcommittee met informally after the committee recognized it could not hold anofficial meeting under Oregon’s public meeting law.

“The dozens of other times senators get together to discuss mattersof student governance, Laura Powers never bothered to file anygrievances,” Gulley said.

A day after the committee members met, the full ASUO Senate convened toappropriate the over-realized funds. Dotters-Katz said senators repeatedlyreferred to the May 13 meeting during the debate despite the court’sdecision earlier that day.

“The committee meeting played a large outcome in the over-realizedhearing the following day,” Dotters-Katz said. “Whether or notit was an official meeting or just friends talking about the proposals, it had alarge influence.”

Powers said cloaking official ASUO meetings as informal get-togethers couldstart a spiraling precedent.

“They have no option but to follow public meetings laws,” shesaid. “They control millions in student fees. If they do what they want,their accountability goes straight out the window.”

Powers filed three related grievances with the ASUO Constitution Courtsince May 13 that could force some ASUO Senators to pay a portion of theirsalaries in punitive damages as a result of the meeting. It is unclear whetherthe Constitution Court will rule on Powers’ grievances before the summerbreak.