URSU talks budget

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Board, executive clash over 2011-12 budget

John Cameron
Editor-in-Chief

When the University of Regina Students’ Union’s board of directors sits down with the URSU executive for their regular meetings, proceedings usually last somewhere between one and one-and-a-half hours.

When the board met to discuss URSU’s budget at 5:30 p.m. on June 9, though, they went three hours before finally adjourning.

The budget is a massive document requiring detailed scrutiny, so it’s not surprising that the meeting would last that long. The constant butting of heads, however, and the lack of firm results – that was surprising.

The board did accomplish one thing relatively smoothly: after viewing several logos, the board voted to update its logo for the first time in at least 17 years. Every other item, however, was debated intensely and at length.

The board and executive clashed throughout the meeting, with every motion either tabled due to time constraints or heavily amended.

After heated exchanges over a series of miscommunications that had resulted in student groups apparently not being afforded consideration for URSU-owned office space, a motion to move the Regina Public Interest Group (RPIRG) to a larger URSU-owned office was eventually given the green light, but with an amendment re-opening applications for RPIRG’s current space. The original motion stated this space was going to go to World University Service of Canada’s U of R chapter.

The board also decided – with science director Shayna Glass abstaining – to nix renewing URSU’s current contract with the dean of science, who rents a secondary office through the students’ union.

Later, the board revisited a May 6 media release revealing URSU’s expenses stemming from the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) referendum held last fall.

Glass, who had brought the issue forward at previous URSU meetings, expressed her concern that simply updating the previous release for clarification wouldn’t have the desired effect and asked that the executive put together a new media release. The board eventually voted in favour of having the executive write a new media release, this time containing more details and written in more neutral language.

The bulk of the meeting, however, was taken up early on by debate about the budget. Glass, fine arts director Jordan Palmer, Campion director Jesse Leontowicz, and arts director Orion Roy-Wright were the most vocal board members during the hour-long debate, which touched on items such as a $2,000 increase to UR Pride funding, but was mainly focused on the $11,000 line item for the Student Awareness Fund, which is used to foster student awareness during election years.

“[E]leven thousand is way higher than I would have anticipated it to be,” Glass said.

The four board members expressed specific concern over two items budgeted within the fund. Leontowicz led the charge against setting aside $750 for printed flyers to circulate to student-heavy residential areas, while Roy-Wright highlighted his concern over $1,500 earmarked for student-directed advertisements in the prairie dog, citing the paper’s “left-wing” reading audience.

All four were also concerned that these initiatives would be overtly political, rather than simply about encouraging students to vote.

However, URSU president Kent Peterson and vice-president of student affairs Paige Kezima defended the budgeting.

Kezima cited similar-sized pre-election budgets from the last decade. Peterson, meanwhile, argued that the awareness-raising planned by the executive requires a two-pronged strategy: highlighting URSU-related issues and, later, encouraging students to turn out.

Peterson also expressed concerns about how the board was approaching changes to the budget.

“I just think that in a budget that has nearly 4.1 million in revenue, talking about $1,500 in advertising for a provincial election campaign in a newspaper seems like a bit of a waste of all of our time,” he said. “I’m not sure the micromanaging is effective.”

He added that the failure of the board to present alternatives for spending and for approaching these issues could potentially hamstring the executive in trying to publicly address issues.

“I think we’re just concerned about what issues you’re talking about,” Roy-Wright responded, to which Peterson fired off a list of student-related concerns: childcare, housing, and the status of the First Nations University.

The discussion went on in this way for another half-hour before a single motion was struck to re-allocate the funds for the fliers and the prairie dog ads to President's Advisory Council (PAC). After that, board members went through the broad issues they had with the budget.

Then they tabled it until July.

In doing so, the board has an extremely difficult task ahead of them. With only three days of consultation with their constituents, board members managed to eat up nearly an hour debating one line item, leaving virtually the entire budget ahead of them. Palmer said that his concerns could take hours to elucidate.

Moreover, the sharp nature of the debate could threaten to prolong the process further – a fact which didn’t escape some board members.

“Can I just say that if we do decide to table [the budget] … can we just cut the cattiness?” asked LGBTI director Matt Lensen. “We’re business people, so to speak, so let’s act like it.”

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