New SGA meets for first time, outlines agenda

By Sam Butterfield

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The newly-elected Student Government Association (SGA) met for the first time last Wednesday.

After what SGA Secretary of Outreach Andrew Prowten called a “successful election” in a Friday release, the 40-member senate met for the first time last week. The group was sworn in by Chief Justice Chris Marquis. In the meeting, the elects were briefed about their legislative powers by Director of Student Legal Services Chuck DiMare. The Senate will next meet this Wednesday.

In other SGA-related news, Secretary of Diversity Andy Dawson recently stepped down, citing academic and job-related constraints. According to the release, SGA President Brandon Tower and Chief of Staff Rachel Dutton have held meetings with “several UMass undergraduates” and will present their choice to the Senate this Wednesday for approval.

The SGA has also partnered with the University’s Ski and Board Club to sponsor a “Rail Jam for Charity,” which will be held Dec. 10, the last day of classes this semester. Both organizations have partnered with Ellen’s Heart and Soul, a planning company which specializes in charity event fund raising. The group was founded by the family of a UMass undergraduate, Andrew Leavitt, in memory of his mother, Ellen Leavitt.

The “Rail Jam” will benefit the Virginia Thurston Healing Garden of Massachusetts, a Harvard, Mass., healing center for people suffering from breast cancer. The event will run from 4 to 9 p.m. Dec. 10, and will be, according to Prowten, “the first ever large scale Rail Jam in UMass history.” The Jam will be held on the Metawampe Lawn, adjacent to Campus Center.

“We feel that the SGA has failed to show students that we are here for them. This event is to show our peers that we want to give to them as well as fight for noble causes,” said Prowten.

The release also details the SGA’s agenda for finances. According to Prowten, “Secretary of Finance Benjamin Levine has been actively working with the Center for Student Development (CSD) to streamline the budget allocation process to better serve Registered Student Organizations (RSOs).”

In addition, “the SGA is also looking into ways of saving Student Account Trust Fund monies to prevent increases in Student Fees.”

The SGA is also taking steps to improve relations between the University and Amherst. Last week, Prowten, Tower, Speaker Modesto Montero and Secretary of University Policy and External Affairs David Robertson attended a meeting with the Amherst Select Board, as well as Chancellor Robert Holub and the chiefs of the UMPD and the Amherst Police Department.

Another area the SGA is addressing is in attempting to improve students’ experience with parking woes on campus. SGA Attorney General Kyle Howard has been working with Director of Parking Services Mike Brennan to implement a system which would text message students if their car has been towed, allowing them to get their cars sooner and avoid paying fees for letting their car remain impounded at Ernie’s Garage.

“Essentially what happens is Ernie’s Towing Company will circle UMass lots looking for students to tow; when a car is towed for something like parking in the wrong lot, it is an immediate $90 fee, followed by another $20 fee when the tow truck enters Ernie’s parking lot, and then another $20 per night that the car is there. Students were being towed on a Monday or Tuesday and not finding out about it until they went back to grab their cars on Friday or Saturday,” said Howard.

The SGA and Parking Services have since established an opt-in system, where students can sign up to receive texts letting them know if their car has been towed or their lot number has changed. Students can sign up for the service at: http://parking.umass.edu/index.php/generalinfo/textmessaging.

Howard has also been working with the Dean of Students office to inform students about their right to counsel through the SGA’s Judicial Advisers Program before hearings in front of the Judicial Board. Each year, about 5,000 UMass students are charged with violations, while, according to the release, only about one-fifth of those students were informed of their right to counsel. Information about the program is now printed on the back of every Notice of Charge sent by the Dean of Students office. Information about the judicial counsel program can be found at: http://www.umass-sga.com/judicial_advisors.php.

Sam Butterfield can be reached at [email protected]