Student Senate’s violation of open meetings laws still uncertain

Johnathan Predaina’s voice resounded within the walls of University Room North in the Pioneer Student Center on March 18, as a pointedly silent Student Senate listened with deliberate intensity.

Predaina accused Senate of violating Wisconsin Open Meetings Law during the previous week’s meeting, when Senate voted to place the University of Wisconsin-Platteville’s membership with United Council on the upcoming spring referendum. This would allow the student body to vote on whether they would retain their membership with the United Council.

They also passed the creation of an ad hoc committee, comprised of Senators, tasked with reviewing and disseminating information about United Council.

Predaina demanded that Senate reconsider the action, saying that “if (Senate chooses) to stand by your actions then I am prepared to press charges.”

This could lead to Senators being fined up to $300 each.

Predaina said the agenda for the March 11, though posted 24 hours before the meeting, did not have any mention of placing United Council on the referendum.

This would violate Wisconsin OML, which states, “The notice of the meeting must give the time, date and subject matter of the meeting, including any matter intended for consideration at any contemplated closed session. Wis. Stat. § 19.84…When notice must be given, the chief presiding officer or his or her designee must provide notice of every meeting at least 24 hours before the meeting begins. Wis. Stat. § 19.84.”

After Predaina finished speaking, some Senate members began to note their disagreement and disapproval of his statement.

“We did not know we were openly violating law,” said Johnathon Koechley, Secretary and Special Projects Coordinator. He also said there had been talks concerning United Council during meetings leading up to the March 11 meeting. Whether this constitutes 24-hour notice has yet to be decided.

“It’s not a criminal offense in my opinion,” student organizations director Joe Kluever said, adding that, considering Senate was unaware they were possibly in violation of Wisconsin OML, pressing charges may be a rash action.

“I wish you had talked to me about this beforehand,” President William Kuehni said, and asked for Predaina to talk further about the issue after the meeting.

During the post-meeting talk between Predaina, Kuehni, Koechley and Parliamentarian Joseph Sigwarth tension was noticeable, but each remained composed and focused on trying to better understand the issue.

Referencing notes, Sigwarth described the events leading up the March 11 meeting.

On Feb. 18, United Council representative Jelena Gagula informed Senate about United Council and how they work to represent the students. On Feb. 25, Sigwarth presented a “factual analysis” of UW-Platteville and their working relationship with United Council.  On March 4, Senator Lakisha Clinton proposed the creation of an ad hoc committee to inform students about United Council. Then, on March 11, the meeting in question, Senator Jessica Symons brought forward a petition to put membership of United Council into the spring referendum and created the ad hoc committee.

Predaina still sought to have Senate reconsider the action, but Koechley noted that in order for Senate to do so, they would have to have 24-hours notice and would not be able to until the next meeting scheduled for April 8.

Predaina and the Senators present agreed that taking two weeks to better analyze the minutes and tentatively schedule a meeting on April 1 was the best decision.

“I was just glad to see them having a conversation afterwards,” said Joanne Wilson, Administrative Liaison to Student Senate. “There’s supposed to be good conversation and a solution, and I think they did that. I hope they call the meeting on April 1. I hope Senate follows through and (they) have a meaningful conversation.”

However, on April 1, University Room North sat empty.

According to an email, Predaina received from Kuehni on April 2, the meeting could not be held as Media Tech. Services was having difficulty providing workers to record the meeting. Wisconsin OML states that a meeting must be recorded.

“There just has to be a voice recording,” Predaina said. “It could be recorded on someone’s laptop. It doesn’t have to be done by Media Tech. Services.”

The email also said that after a straw poll was taken, close to half the members would be unable to attend an April 1 meeting.

“I’m a little disappointed,” Predaina said. “We had worked out a timeline that I was pretty happy with. But I’m still hopeful that they’ll correct the issue.”

Kuehni could not be reached for comment.

In the email, Kuehni said that a meeting for later in the week is possible and “the plan still is and always was to work with you to resolve any and all the issues.”