SGA subcommittee starts impeachment investigation of President Timmy Sullivan

Over 100 students signed petition

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SGA subcommittee starts impeachment investigation of President Timmy Sullivan

Anish Roy/Daily Collegian

Anish Roy/Daily Collegian

Anish Roy/Daily Collegian

Anish Roy/Daily Collegian

By Kathrine Esten, Assistant News Editor

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An impeachment investigation of current Student Government Association President Timmy Sullivan was announced during the SGA’s meeting on Wednesday, Oct. 30 at the University of Massachusetts.

A petition with over 100 student signatures called for Sullivan’s impeachment and an immediate review of how the SGA spends its allocated funds, “specifically in regards to payroll.” Althea Turley, the chair of administrative affairs in the SGA senate, stated the investigation would be handled by the AA subcommittee on rules and ethics.

“It’s rare for rules and ethics to do an investigation, especially an impeachment investigation,” Turley said. “Rules and ethics shall begin an information finding process to determine what happened, why it happened and what the consequences were.”

The investigation, which began on Sunday, gives the subcommittee 30 days to consider the issues raised in the petition and create a report for the senate to consider. The subcommittee could dismiss the charges, but if the subcommittee feels the SGA bylaws have been violated, the senate will be able to vote on impeachment. If the president were impeached, the issue of removal would be considered by the judiciary.

The petition, which has no specific author, claimed “numerous individuals” participated in “heinously inappropriate” conduct in the spring 2019 semester, including former Vice President Nathalie Amazan, for receiving funds after announcing their intention to resign. However, the petition focused on Sullivan as the executive of the SGA and only involved party still in office.

The petition requested a “non-political review of the conduct of the President,” but stated it was understandable the petition would be met with “political dramatics.”

“The Student Government Association has failed in its oversight responsibilities, and we, the undersigned, are demanding that action be taken to hold those responsible accountable, as well as to pass reform so this does not and cannot happen again,” the document reads.

“Whoever wrote the document, which, I don’t know who wrote the document, their motive is impeachment,” Sullivan said. “A literal four-minute conversation will put this matter to rest and answer all [the subcommittee’s] questions.”

The petition first took issue with the resignations of Secretary of Technology, Sam Poza, in Oct. 2018 and Vice President Nathalie Amazan in Feb. 2019. The petition claims Sullivan did not complete his obligations to submit replacements for each position to the senate.

“That position [the secretary of technology] was open the whole year,” Turley said about the secretary of technology position in an interview before the Wednesday meeting. “That meant all the money open to that position, and later, the vice president, was available to be taken by the president and other positions.”

Regarding the hiring of a secretary of technology, Sullivan said nobody applied for the position.

“I followed the exact procedure as laid out in the bylaws,” Sullivan said. “I cannot force somebody to work. Because there were no applicants… there was nobody to send to the senate. So, it was left vacant until my second term began.”

There was an applicant after Sullivan’s second term began, with Timothy Nguyen taking over as the current secretary of technology.

Regarding the vice presidency, Sullivan said there was only one applicant for the vice presidency, Hayden Latimer-Ireland. However, after soliciting applications and interviewing, the election had already occurred, with Sullivan and Latimer-Ireland winning as a ticket. Latimer-Ireland was sworn in as vice president in April.

Sullivan said no senator approached him about the choice not to nominate a candidate to replace Amazan in the weeks before his second term began or at any point prior to the petition.

“The first time I’d ever heard either of these issues brought up to me…was when this petition was filed,” Sullivan said.

In addition to accusing Sullivan of violating bylaws, the petition alleged the president violated SGA ethics by receiving more than 40 hours of pay in a two-week cycle.

According to the SGA payroll for FY18-19, Sullivan was paid for 60 work hours per pay cycle from Feb. 3 to March 2 and March 17 through April 27, a total of five pay cycles or two weeks.

The petition tied its payroll concerns with the increase in the Student Activities Trust Fee, which funds RSOs and SGA, claiming the $1,817.25 which was allocated in a different manner than indicated on the budget was “greater than the budgets of 83 Registered Student Organizations.”

“$1,817.25 [allocated to Sullivan and other officers in spring 2019] is equivalent to 14 students directly paying for unauthorized payroll,” the petition said.

“There are many members of the Student Government Association who work well-over their allocated amount of paid hours, but you do not see them engaging in this conduct,” the petition claimed.

“For me, when I was reading [the payroll reports], I was just upset,” Jake Binnall, the student trustee, said, explaining he was secretary of the registry last year and worked closely with many RSOs which experienced budget cuts.

Binnall and Turley said they each independently came across the disputed payroll in late September. Binnall said he did so “more out of curiosity” and was interested in how public money was being spent. Last semester, since Binnall served in the cabinet as secretary of the registry, he couldn’t look into the issue independently.

Turley said, “We were all so busy last year, but a lot of people did look into why those vacancies were vacant for so long. We had a chance to really look at it [now].”

As student trustee, Binnall does not have a formal role in the impeachment process, but he said, “I’m very upset about it, so I’m going to be very vocal.”

The petition argued if there had been a “legitimate, demonstrated need for increased hours for those time periods,” the officers should have presented their request to the SGA and the request should have been vetted, analyzed and approved by the senate.

According to Sullivan, said request is not required.

“The pay is to make the job more accessible,” Binnall said. “It’s not supposed to be that you get paid for every hour you’re doing labor.

“If there was legitimate concern the president should be paid more, that should have been a conversation that the SGA and the student body had as a whole.”

According to the Student Activity Trust Fund Funding Guidelines for Agencies in FY21, no single student position can be budgeted for over 20 hours per week during the budget application process.

When asked if his position was “limited” to 20 hours per week, Sullivan said each position has a recommended number of hours in the budget request.

“But that is susceptible, with the approval of the president, the secretary of finance and the [SGA advisor] can be adjusted,” Sullivan said.

When Amazan was in office, Sullivan said he lowered his pay to 17.5 hours so the two positions, president and vice president, were paid equally.

“With Nathalie’s resignation, I essentially became both the president and vice president….we split our work equally. I just doubled the work I was doing,” Sullivan said. He said he had a discussion with the secretary of finance and advisor to increase not to the full allocation, but to 30 hours a week.

When asked about the SATF fee and its relation to SGA payroll, Sullivan said, “They’re completely unrelated.”

“The premise of this again is reflected in that language of ‘more pay,’ which I don’t think is the way to think about it. Should Nathalie [Amazan] have stayed on in the position, money would still be allocated to that job,” Sullivan said.

“Somebody would be getting that pay. Somebody did fill that position,” he added, reiterating his additional responsibilities in the spring semester.

He also reaffirmed his support for the SATF fee increase, saying, “The reason I supported it was that student groups came to us and said that this was something we needed to do.”

The main concern for Binnall and Turley was the month of April 2019, when Latimer-Ireland had been sworn in as vice president, but Sullivan continued reporting 30 hours per week from March 31 to April 27.

“What was happening during that month?” Binnall asked.

“The money that was taken in over-reported hours could have funded so many other groups,” Turley said. “It’s not necessarily against the bylaws, but it’s unethical.”

Sullivan said the payroll in April was likely adjusted for the transition period between academic years.

When asked about possible political motivation, Binnall acknowledged he was a candidate for vice president in spring 2018, when Sullivan was elected for his first term. However, he emphasized he, as a then-candidate for student trustee, did not participate in the 2019 presidential campaigns. Turley said she did not endorse any of the candidates or volunteer for any campaigns.

Turley has checked the fall 2019 payroll records and noted there had been no pay periods in which Sullivan reported over 20 hours. She decided not to answer questions after giving her SGA report on Wednesday, as a full investigation has not been completed to provide necessary answers.

In the meeting, no senators asked questions about the impeachment investigation when Binnall, Sullivan, Turley and Attorney General Ilina Shah commented on the investigation in their announcements.

“We should let them [the subcommittee] go through that process undisturbed and unaltered,” Binnall said. “Following this process is very critical in this moment and we shouldn’t try to circumvent that.”

Turley said there was a need to treat concerns of constituents “with an open mind.”

“I have faith in the success of our bylaws and I want us all to abide by this process,” Sullivan said. “I now stand behind AA fully in following their process, and the rules and ethics subcommittee in their process.”

Shah offered herself as a resource about the bylaws involved and the impeachment investigation process in her role as an ex-officio to the AA and close work with the rules and ethics subcommittee.

“The bylaws do not indicate that I must be directly involved with the investigative process itself. Instead, my role according to my bylaws is to implement the bylaws and act accordingly if violations of the by-laws have occurred,” Shah explained.

Sullivan added, “We [the SGA] should all continue to be actively engaged on the issues that are affecting students.”

Kathrine Esten can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter at @KathrineEsten.