Student senators are questioning each others’ motives after what appears to be a conflict of interest involving top officials.
The conflict began with a bill presented to the Student Senate on March 22 asking for $2,000 so three Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity members could attend a mandatory leadership conference in Nashville. The total cost of the trip was $4,000, according to the bill.
Randy Gipson-Black, one of two Student Government Association presidential candidates at the time, presented the bill, but said he did not write it. Gipson-Black is a Lambda Chi Alpha member, but said he was only at the Senate meeting to learn about the way it works. He said Ben Patterson, Lambda Chi Alpha president, could not attend the meeting, so Gipson-Black was asked to present the bill.
The conference would train fraternity members on a variety of things including rushing, hazing prevention and bystander intervention, Gipson-Black said.
“The reason why we thought we could ask for money from SGA is because we’re going to bring these tools back to the campus. This isn’t just for our experience,” he said.
The bill was tabled March 22 because senators wanted more information that Gipson-Black could not provide. The bill also contained discrepancies. It stated that three members must attend the conference, but listed the cost of attendance, plane tickets, food, and lodging for four people.
Senators expected the bill to better explain the costs before it was brought back to them at a later meeting. If it had been rewritten, it would have been considered a different bill.
Gipson-Black presented the Lambda Chi Alpha bill again April 5. By that time, he was the SGA president-elect. The bill still had the same cost discrepancy.
“We were supposed to rewrite it. However, it never got rewritten by our President Ben Patterson, so the same bill got submitted twice,” Gipson-Black said.
Patterson refused to comment on why the bill was not revised.
Despite not being revised, the bill passed with a 9-1 vote, making it the largest bill passed this semester, said Holly Randall, former SGA vice president. Only one larger bill was approved this academic year, she said.
Sen. Pierce Gordon (freshman at-large) voted against the bill. He said he didn’t want to establish a precedent where SGA would fund luxuries, like buying plane tickets for a short flight.
“I argued that it was irresponsible, it established an irresponsible precedent,” he said.
Gipson-Black is not a voting member of the Senate. But, his brother, Austin Gipson-Black, who also is a Lambda Chi Alpha member, voted for the bill. Austin Gipson-Black is the new SGA vice president, making him president of the Senate.
Sen. Tommy Grossnicklaus (social sciences) said Austin Gipson-Black should have recused himself from that vote. Sen. Grossnicklaus recused himself from a vote at the same March 22 meeting because it pertained to Kappa Sigma, which he’s a member of.
“It would have looked really shady,” he said.
Zack Travers, business administration senior, presented the bill for Kappa Sigma fraternity during the March 22 meeting. It asked for about $1,600 for the fraternity’s 50th anniversary celebration, a weekend of events on and off campus for alumni and current members. The cost for the celebration is $17,151, according to the bill.
After discussion, the Kappa Sigma bill was amended to $720 and passed. Despite recusing himself from the vote, Sen. Grossnicklaus said he suggested lowering the amount of money they would receive.
Sen. Grossnicklaus was unable to attend the April 5 Senate meeting, but said he would have voted against the Lambda Chi bill. He said Lambda Chi senators being involved with such a large bill doesn’t look right.
“It’s not the right thing to do,” he said. “The budget should be there for everyone.”
SGA bylaws address conflicts of interest. Student Senate members shall recuse themselves of participation in any inquiries pertaining to themselves, according to SGA bylaws.
Randy Gipson-Black said there is no conflict of interest because he wasn’t there as a member of SGA and it was not his administration at the time. In the past, he said senators recused themselves from a vote that pertains to them.
“We’ve presented bills and Lambda Chis have always recused themselves,” he said. “Part of being SGA president is being objective, and, if I’m trying to promote my ideas just because I’m in that organization, that’s not what I’m there for. I’m trying to benefit each organization the best I can, but I’m not going to pay special attention to, say, Lambda Chi just because I’m a member. That’s totally against how I think it should be done.”
Gipson-Black said he also does not think his brother Austin’s vote was a conflict. Randy Gipson-Black said Austin’s “constituency list” includes the members of Lambda Chi.
Randall said a constituency list is just specific contacts for different organization leaders to have an easy contact in SGA. It has no bearing on the constituents they were elected to serve, she said.
Gipson-Black later said the intention of the list seems to have been miscommunicated.
Austin Gipson-Black previously served as the religion senator, meaning his constituents were students with majors in the Wimberly School of Religion. A different senator represents the Greek district.
“To avoid a conflict of interest, Austin did not take part in debate. He just clarified questions, so he didn’t have a hand in debating or deliberating on the bill. He only voted and spoke on a clarifying question,” Randy Gipson-Black said.
Sen. Gordon disagreed. He said Austin Gipson-Black should have recused himself from the vote.
“When you have the possibility to vote and it’s something that is personal to you, I don’t think you can make as sound of a decision as you should,” Gordon said. “I think it would’ve been responsible, like Tommy Grossnicklaus did, to recuse himself from the participation of the Lambda Chi vote.”
Nic Rhodes, former SGA president, had the ability to veto the bill, but did not. Rhodes, who also is a Lambda Chi, was not available for comment Monday.
Editor’s note: News Editor Zoe Travers is the sister of Zack Travers, former Kappa Sigma president.