Senators violate bylaws in impeachment trial

Photo: Senate Secretary Jalisa Ross reads the resolution of impeachment as Senate President Sarah Cook and Edwards Ayo-Odugbesan, Senate president pro tempore, listen at an April 10 Student Senate meeting in the Great Hall in Tom and Brenda McDaniel Center. (Krista Spears/ The Campus)


By Farris Willingham, Editor-in-Chief

Student senators violated their association’s bylaws in this week’s impeachment of the student body president.

Emma Velez, the incumbent president-elect, was impeached April 10 after senators voted 14-6 to remove her from the office.

Senate’s steering committee cited six charges in which they said Velez violated the association’s constitution. Click here for more information about the case and here for a list of the votes.

Senators closed the chambers to host a private vote on an impeachment resolution, which contradicted Senate’s voting procedure as listed in the association’s bylaws.

Sen. Tyler Johnson (law) moved to close the chambers following the meeting’s discussion and debate, and senators approved the motion 13- 6.

Senate President Sarah Cook told the meeting’s audience to leave the room while senators voted on the resolution.

The decision conflicted with the association’s governing documents and rules of parliamentary procedure.

Senators may move the meeting to an executive session to discuss the resolution in private, according to Robert’s Rules of Order, but they may not overturn their bylaws to vote in private.

All Senate votes shall be publicly cast, reads Section 2 of the association’s bylaws.

Rules contained in an assembly’s bylaws or constitution cannot be suspended—no matter how large the vote received is or how inconvenient the rule may be, reads Robert’s Rules.

Even though senators received a two-thirds vote to suspend the rules, the deferral does not extend to the voting procedure of the bylaws.

Senators approved the motion because some felt intimidated and uncomfortable about casting their vote with the crowd present, Sen. Erica Olavarria (senior-at-large) said.

“There were a lot of onlookers at the case,” she said. “I don’t think the pressure of voting in public would have changed anyone’s votes, but it made some senators feel more comfortable in their decision.”

Velez said Thursday that the vote should have happened in public.

“The students have a right to know,” she said. “If it wasn’t according to the rules, then that’s unfortunate.”

Click here for the association’s constitution and here for its bylaws.


From the bylaws:

SECTION 2- Senate Procedure

         Part A: Voting Procedure.

Quorum.  Quorum shall be a majority of voting members excluding the chair. Public Votes.  All votes shall be publicly cast.  Final vote on each piece of legislation shall be recorded in the minutes such that each member’s vote may be referred to in the future. 


Seems pretty unambiguous to me that votes are to made "publicly cast," rather than simply "made public." Not to mention that I was there when these were written and I know the express purpose was to make voting more transparent, something that didn't happen here. I also agree that senators "signed up" for this when they took the position, and their discomfort doesn't change the bylaws.

Of course, if Robert's Rules are intentionally being ignored when they are uncomfortable for student senators, there's another problem altogether. Everyone on Senate is an adult and trusted with tens of thousands of dollars, and I expect them to act as such, even (and especially when) it's uncomfortable. 


Regardless of whether senators violated their bylaws or not, when elected officials vote in private, it appears that secrets are being kept from those that they represent (in this case, the student body). While meeting minutes may have been made public in a timely manner, a PDF document listing the votes isn't of equivalent transparency to actually allowing the public to be present.


As public servants, those elected to the office are subject to public scrutiny. The best protection for public officials against scrutiny is to have a good working knowledge of their governing documents. If senators are uncomfortable making decisions in front of the public on behalf of those they serve, perhaps they should reconsider their office.


Great story. It's very informative. It is nice to see the student media hard at work bringing attention to important issues.


As the person that raised the motion, I felt that order and the peace would be better served if the gallery were emptied, allowing time for the passions to cool.  I still feel that way.  The vote was made public in a timely manner, with all of the names of the Senators that voted for the impeachment being published for everybody to see, in accordance with the requirement that all votes be made publicly in accordance with the publicity requirements. 


As the chair of Student Senate, it saddens me to see our process being attacked. I can assure the students of OCU that we followed our rules and procedures to the best of our ability. The votes have been made public, as they are referenced in your article. We are also able to suspend our bylaws with a two thirds vote, which the vote received. As long as we performed a roll call vote and made the vote public we were well within our rights as Student Senate.


Great coverage on this issue. This is the purpose of student media. Student government should be held accountable for their actions, and those actions must always occur in public. 

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