Following the Channels’ coverage of the Student Senate’s Brown Act violation on April 12, senators challenged the story by bringing in Parliamentarian Lorenzo R. Cuesta for guidance on the issue.
“You have not done anything wrong with the Brown Act,” Cuesta said. “The Brown Act merely says you must do something in an open fashion.”
Cuesta’s statement is false, however.
The senate initially voted on and approved putting a $5 sustainability fee on the election ballot at its March 22 meeting.
At a later April 12 meeting, however, senators verbally agreed in the last 10 minutes of the meeting to increase the fee by $3 and allocate the funds to the Student Senate without putting it on an agenda or having an official vote. This was a direct violation of the Brown Act, an open meeting law that assures government actions are accessible to the public.
The Channels reached out to Senior Legal Counsel of the Student Law Press Center Mike Hiestand for confirmation that the senate had in fact broken the California law. Hiestand said the act was violated because the senate didn’t include in its agenda that the senators were going to discuss or vote on rescinding a motion that they had previously made.
“If they needed to take a vote in order to move forward or kill something then definitely that would have to be on the agenda,” Hiestand said. “…They’re taking official business and not they’re not following the notice requirements. That would be a violation.”
Cuesta told The Channels that the senate violated its “bylaws and ethics,” but not the Brown Act. Cuesta does not have any official qualifications in journalistic law or ethics, however Hiestand has been serving as senior legal counsel to student journalists for over 30 years.
President Josh Villanueva explained in Friday’s meeting that the Student Senate is not allowed to have a sustainability fee on the ballot because there can only be money allocated from the Student Representatives Fee or the Student Activities Fee.
“The thing about last week’s motion is you can’t create a sustainability fee of $5,” Villanueva said. “So either way it’s not a decision we can make.”
Hiestand told The Channels the senate would still need to rescind the motion regardless of if senators were initially mistaken about their ability to follow through with it.
“If there was a formal motion that was voted on then they realized they couldn’t do it, it seems like there had to be a formal rescission process,” he said.
The Channels reached out to Villanueva but he declined to comment.
The Senate will reconvene at its next meeting on April 19.