Senator seeks poll on ASG practices

Michelle Ma

An online referendum that would force Associated Student Government to open certain meetings and release more detailed financial information may be up before the end of the quarter.

The idea for the poll comes after ASG’s Rules Committee voted down legislation on Jan. 18 that would have opened restricted meetings to select senators and made more budget information open to students.

Executive Board, Executive Committee and Student Activities Finance Board meetings currently are closed to senators or students not on those boards. The legislation proposed by Phi Mu Alpha-Sigma Alpha Iota Sen. Gabe Matlin called for some senator observers in these meetings. Another bill Matlin introduced would have required ASG to release detailed ledgers of its accounts.

The proposed bills were discussed in Rules Committee but failed to reach the Senate floor. Matlin said he plans to turn the bills into a referendum that would take the form of an online student poll.

A referendum does not need to go through the ASG Senate and requires the Senate to enact the majority decision of the student body. Matlin would need to collect at least 200 student signatures to launch the referendum, according to Matt Hall, speaker of the Senate and a Communication senior.

Matlin said more stringent oversight of ASG finances is necessary, adding that he believes the ASG Executive Board uses money from outside donors to go out to dinner.

“I think it becomes shady when they (the Executive Board) try to cover up what they’re doing,” Matlin said.

Some ASG officials defended the body’s current policies.

Communication sophomore Jordan Rost, an 1835 Hinman senator, said some closed meetings are necessary.

“It’s important to have some kind of closed committees so we can talk about (student) groups in an anonymous setting,” said Rost, who sits on the Executive Committee.

In addition, providing students with a complete ledger of all of ASG’s expenses would be difficult with the university’s current financial record-keeping, said ASG Treasurer John J. Hughes III, a former Daily forum editor. Hughes also said he was unaware of “any money being used for personal expenses.”

Northwestern requires all student groups to use the Student Organization Finance Office for financial services, a system that still depends on paper records and does not offer the technology to efficiently identify all transactions, said Hughes, a Weinberg senior.

He said he was not in favor of the proposal to provide a detailed ledger of ASG’s accounts.

“The way (the proposed bill) was set up was a time-consuming process and students wouldn’t have seen any net benefits,” Hughes said.

Both Hughes and ASG President Jane Lee said there is no reason for students to see ASG’s transactions because a five-level auditing process takes place every two to three weeks.

In addition to Hughes and Lee, the account executive and financial vice president, the director of the Center for Student Involvement, Norris University Center’s business director and the Student Activities Finance Board will question large money transactions and some randomly selected transactions, Hughes and Lee said.

Although Matlin said it’s legitimate for ASG to use money to buy items, he added it is “essential” for “people to know how much (the Executive Board) is spending on what.”

Matlin also questioned the motives behind some of ASG’s purchases, saying the auditing process doesn’t allow personal checks but might allow other questionable purchases to pass through.

“(The auditing system) prevents people from embezzling money,” Matlin said. “But it doesn’t stop the board from buying things they shouldn’t be buying.”

Reach Michelle Ma at [email protected].