USG candidate allegations rile elections
Documentation has emerged supporting allegations made in a case filed with the Undergraduate Student Government Judiciary yesterday that may determine the outcome of this year's election for student body president.
The case - which challenges the legitimacy of USG senator Carlyle Bethel's run for president - was filed yesterday with the USG Judiciary by Senator Kevin Alvarez, who also serves as the campaign manager for Bethel's sole opponent: Mark Sargent. It alleges Bethel and his running mate, David Rifkin, violated USG elections policies by accruing absences from mandatory senate and committee meetings.
The USG Elections and Campaign Policies state: "A candidate currently serving in the Undergraduate Student Government is required to fulfill all 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."
Official copies of meeting minutes were obtained by The Daily Campus that show Bethel - who serves on the Student Services Committee - was absent from the committee's meetings three times this semester: on Jan. 23, Jan. 30 and Feb. 27.
Both Bethel and Rifkin were also absent from the USG Senate meeting on Feb. 19.
Alvarez said a judiciary hearing on the case will likely take place next Thursday, and results from the campus-wide vote will probably be withheld until after a decision is handed down.
The situation is dÃ©jÃ vu for USG. Last year, the judiciary decided the USG presidential race when Senate Speaker Shiv Gandhi - who won the campus-wide vote - was disqualified from the presidential race for violating campaign rules.
When asked to respond to the allegations brought forward by Alvarez, 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.
"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.
In an interview Tuesday, Rifkin stated, "I 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."
But meeting records show Rifkin was absent from a formal senate meeting on Feb. 12 and Feb. 19 this year. He has also, according to Alvarez, allegedly missed four meetings of External Affairs. Records retained by The Daily Campus can only confirm one of Rifkin's absences from the committee's meetings, which took place on Feb. 7.
When asked about the allegations in an interview Thursday night, Rifkin's response was similar to Bethel's.
"I pride myself on hard work and dedication, and Carlyle and I will not allow a case intended to harm our reputation in the heat of elections stand in the way of our goals," he said. "I am disappointed that our opponents' campaign team would attack our loyalty and character...I am confident that UConn students will be able to see through the finger pointing and realize what our campaign really stands for: dedication, leadership and a united Husky spirit."
Absences from mandatory USG are also addressed in the organization's bylaws, which state: "Senators shall not be absent and unexcused from more than two Undergraduate Student Senate meetings per academic semester." It also states that two unexcused absences are grounds for immediate removal from USG at the
discretion of the speaker.
Three senators were removed from the organization last fall for such absences - but USG Deputy Speaker Colin Ng said since those members were expunged, the organization has not reviewed attendance records to check for violations.
Senate Speaker Gandhi denied to comment on the case, but said tracking attendance is not a priority around elections time.
"Since I'm not present for every committee meeting, and because there are five committees, committee attendance is reported by the chair of the committee," Gandhi said. "As far as Senate attendance goes, it is possible - though rare - to get excused from a Senate absence. That decision is made by me."
It is unclear whether any of Bethel or Rifkin's absences would be deemed excused.
Any member of the student body is currently permitted to run for USG president, but only current-USG members are subject to the attendance requirements outlined in the elections policies. However, the senate voted to amend the USG Constitution that would require candidates for president to have prior USG experience. The revised constitution is currently up for approval from the student body.
Voting for USG president and approval of the constitutional changes will conclude on March 10 at 5 p.m. Students can cast their ballots at vote.uconn.edu.
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