Disqualification decides election
USG Presidential Candidate Carlyle Bethel and Vice Presidential Candidate David Rifkin listen to opening statements at their trial on Thursday evening. On Mar. 4, Senator Kevin Alvarez, the campaign manager for the Mark Sargent and Claire Price presidential ticket, filed charges with the USG Judiciary Commite alleging Bethel and Rifkin violated USG by-laws. Lindsay Collier/The Daily Campus
The Undergraduate Student Government Judiciary disqualified presidential candidate Carlyle Bethel from the presidential race, citing potential time constraints as the primary reason for his ineligibility.
Bethel's disqualification makes his sole opposition for president - Mark Sargent, and his vice presidential running mate, Claire Price - this year's victors.
The hearing stems from a letter that Sargent and Prices' campaign manager, Senator Kevin Alvarez, sent to the USG Judiciary outlining allegations that Bethel and his running mate, David Rifkin, failed to uphold the standards of the student government during their tenure as senators due to absences from mandatory meetings.
In the decision issued by the judiciary after a hearing Thursday night, the justices deviated from the initial allegations and stated the most "egregious" violation of USG elections policies lies in Bethel's role as a Resident Assistant. RAs have mandatory meetings on Wednesday nights, which conflict with formal USG Senate meetings. The elections policies state, "A candidate must be able to attend all meetings of the (USG) Senate, including informal Senate meetings, during the term of the position that he or she is seeking."
The justices connected some of Bethel's absences from senate meetings this semester with his RA duties, stating in the formal decision that "as a current RA, Senator Bethel has missed multiple required Senate meetings."
After the initial case was filed by Alvarez last week, candidates Sargent and Price maintained that they did not know of Alvarez's plans until after the fact, and candidates Bethel and Rifkin have since bemoaned insider politics working to take away student choice.
"It has been a culture in USG to strip the student body of its voice and strip this campus of democracy by taking every election to the court and allowing five people to decide the outcome of the elections, and we hope to avoid that this election," Bethel said. "I don't have perfect attendance, as most senators don't, but David (Rifkin) and I have been very dedicated to student government and have served to the best of our abilities."
USG members and interested students crowded into a third floor meeting room in the Student Union to witness the proceedings. Both parties presented evidence and were given a chance to voice their arguments to the justices.
Alvarez lodged that absences incurred by Bethel and Rifkin from formal USG senate meetings and committee meetings violated the organization's bylaws and elections policies. He added that Bethel's commitment to being a Resident Assistant would conflict with his job as president, and that his absence on Feb. 27 from the Student Services committee was spent in preparation for the presidential debate on the same night.
Senator Rifkin responded on Bethel's behalf. Rifkin did not assert innocence. Instead, he said, "Not one of these violations are grounds for dismissal from the election."
Rifkin cited the same bylaws and campaign policies that Alvarez did, but added, "Of the few times that one of us were absent, it was due to unchangeable circumstances, like an exam."
Rifkin added that none of the absences pertained to the presidential campaign. He also responded to Alvarez's argument that Bethel could not fulfill the duties of student body president amid his obligations as an RA.
"Carlyle has arranged special circumstances to be able to be both a Resident Assistant and a member of USG," he said, adding that a presidential candidate cannot be disqualified due to "predictions of absence."
Alvarez focused on a USG bylaw that stipulates: "Senators shall not be absent from more than (two) Undergraduate Student Government senate meetings."
He turned his attention to Bethel, saying that Bethel had only attended two of his ten External Affairs Committee meetings during the first semester. Alvarez also accused Bethel of absences on Jan. 23, Jan. 30, and Feb. 27 from his Student Services Committee. Alvarez also attempted to prove that Bethel was absent from the Feb. 27 Student Services meeting because he was preparing for the presidential debate of the same night, saying he witnessed Bethel and Rifkin dressed up in suits "gesticulating with papers in front of them."
Senator Bethel interrupted Alvarez and asked how he could be sure it was debate prep that was going on at the time, to which Alvarez responded: "What else would you be doing in a situation like that only an hour before the debate?"
Alvarez invoked Senator Justin Clark as a witness to back his claim.
"I was walking with Kevin that night after we left the Student Services meeting," Clark said. "We walked past the windows on the fourth floor and I remarked, 'oh look there's Carlyle and David, they must be prepping because they are gesticulating.'... "It clearly looked to me like a debate prep."
Alvarez added, "Regardless of what (Bethel was) doing, that's three absences from Committee, two from Senate and one from Caucus, when the limit is two absences for a semester."
USG bylaws do state a senator can be removed from his or her post at the discretion of the speaker if he or she accrues more than two absences from mandatory meetings. Speaker Shiv Gandhi has not recently reviewed absences, but three senators were disbanded for unexcused absences last October.
Alvarez said Rifkin also missed senate meetings on Feb. 12 and Feb. 19, contrary to what he told the Daily Campus in an interview last week: "I have never missed a senate in my life. Since coming to UConn I have not once missed a senate, and the same cannot be said for any other senator."
At Thursday's hearing, Rifkin admitted to absences but stated they were due to excusable reasons.
"In my entire tenure as senator, I have left early from one caucus and missed one senate, and both absences were due to exams scheduled outside the normal class time," Rifkin said.
Rifkin added that Bethel has taken steps throughout the campaign to make sure he wasn't violating any campaign policies, and challenged Alvarez's evidence.
"The important thing isn't the specific absences, it's that our attendance was in no way impacted by our campaign," Rifkin said.
Rifkin asserted that the absences are irrelevant, saying a bid for a USG office has nothing to do with the office a candidate currently holds. He added that because Gandhi has not reviewed the absences or made the decision to unseat them, their status as senators cannot be in question.
"Election policies have nothing to do with attendance, that's my point," Rifkin said.
But elections polices do speak to attendance. Section Two of the elections policies state: "A candidate currently serving in the Undergraduate Student Government is required to fulfill all duties and responsibilities required of his or her current office, including attendance at any meeting of the Undergraduate Student Government that he or she is required to attend."
The policies are unclear, however, about what constitutes excused or unexcused absences and what the sanctions are for violating the clause.
Bethel argued the absences he incurred should be deemed excused. He provided the justices with a schedule from Feb. 27.
"Throughout the day, I had no chance to bathe, shower or change," Bethel said. He added that he could've showed up to the meeting smelling bad and in sweatpants, but he went back to his dorm so he could shower. He ran to the Union, but the meeting had ended already.
Rifkin added when he missed a committee meeting, he alerted the chair and she responded by saying "it's okay," and "she understood."
Rifkin added that Bethel did nothing campaign related before the debate on Feb. 27, and he was neither "recklessly negligent" or "willfully defiant."
Bethel explained that his reason for missing so many External Affairs meetings was because, after attending a couple, he decided the committee wasn't for him, so he switched to Student Services. However, he was unaware of the formal procedure for switching committees.
Justice David Golfin pointed out that none of the absences in question were marked excused on meeting minutes. Rifkin replied that Gandhi rarely grants excused absences.
In response to Alvarez's allegation that Bethel's RA duties would interfere with his duties as president, Bethel stated that Nora McGee - hall director of West Campus - worked with him to set up special circumstances that Bethel said would make multi-tasking possible. He added that he was willing to resign if circumstances became inflexible.
But Bethel said his RA duties did currently conflict with his USG obligations, and he often skips RA meetings on Wednesday nights in favor of attending USG meetings.
When asked why he was absent on Jan. 23 and Jan. 30 from Student Services, Bethel said he couldn't remember why he was absent on the 30th, but that he was absent on the 23rd because he was ill.
In his closing remarks, Alvarez spoke to the spirit and integrity of USG.
"You must fulfill the requirements of your job description, which is to attend all of the regularly scheduled meetings," Alvarez said. "Either (Bethel and Rifkin) completely missed the first two pages of the bylaws, or they willfully decided to break the rules."
He called their absences negligible and egregious violation.
Rifkin and Bethel closed with a personal, passionate appeal. Rifkin said that the absences he incurred prior to elections do not merit disqualification due to election policy rules, and Bethel missed his meetings due to extenuating circumstances - not because he was negligent or willfully denying the rules.
"I'm hurt that my character is being challenged regarding something that means so much to me," Rifkin said.
"My absences weren't just to skip and avoid meetings. I did what I could to make it to these meetings," Bethel said. "I think publishing it in the paper the day of elections starting was a bit low in attacking us, and I think this case was brought forward for political reasons."
The justices - Chief Justice Shawn Pilares, Associate Justice Katherine Blouin and Associate Justice David Goflin - ruled Bethel and Rifkin guilty after a brief deliberation, and, in the formal written decision, Chief Justice Shawn Pilares called Bethel's potential time commitments with his RA duties the most "egregious" of the election policy violations.
The decision states that Bethel's attempt to make special arrangements with his RA supervisor were "unfounded due to the fact that Hall Directors are not made aware of their area assignments until April of the spring semester prior to their assignment. Therefore, any assurances made by his current Hall Director are not relevant to the 2014-2015 academic year."
The justices also validated Alvarez's allegations that Bethel and Rifkin violated elections policies by accruing absences from compulsory senate and committee meetings.
"The absences, in addition to being a direct violation of campaign policies, also reflect a lack of effort to 'preserve the spirit and integrity of (USG),'" the decision reads.
The decision also questioned the legitimacy of the defendants' responses to the allegations.
"Bethel and Rifkin's testimony consisted of only hearsay and their own recollection of events as they saw them. The defendants provided no proof of their claims nor did they provide any evidence contrary to Alvarez's accusations, which must be taken at face value," the decision states.
Bethel and Rifkin were given a five-hour window to appeal the decision, but the pair decided to let the decision stand. Results from the campus-wide vote are expected to be released sometime today.
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