Finance Board defies bylaws, UCSU Constitution; possible violation of Sunshine Law alleged
University officials are continuing to investigate whether or not the UCSU Finance Board violated a state public meetings law, in addition to breaking the board’s own bylaws and the UCSU Constitution, when it closed a meeting on Feb. 10.
Colorado’s “Sunshine Law” states that no public entity can close a meeting and go into executive session without prior notification to the public and a formal vote by board members, neither of which the Finance Board did for the meeting in question. However, according to representatives of the state attorney general’s office and university legal counsel, UCSU and its subsidiaries may not be subject to the Sunshine regulations.
“I think the issue is whether or not that student body is subject to the law, it isn’t a given that the open meetings act applies here. The main questions are whether or not UCSU qualifies as a public institution funded by public money,” said Becki Currey, an attorney with the university’s legal counsel.
Nate Strauch, a spokesman for the state attorney’s office, echoed Currey’s sentiments, saying that because finance board members are not publicly elected to office, but appointed by Legislative Council and the Tri-executives, and are funded through student fees, which do not qualify as public money, they are not subject to the same standards as other public bodies.
Richard Collins, a professor with the CU Law School who has experience interpreting state law, disagreed with Strauch and Currey.
“Because student fees are required by law to pay, that seems to me to be of public concern,” Collins said. “Sunshine laws are very broadly defined to include any public policy-making entity, and to me, UCSU falls under that definition as a state-supported subsidiary.”
Citing the Sunshine Laws, Collins also said that a public entity can only go into executive session to discuss the purchase of property, attorney-client privilege, security issues, under negotiations with unions, industry secrets and to award honorary degrees. At the Feb. 10 meeting, the finance board discussed and voted on figure-setting for the budgets of the university’s minor cost centers, which to Collins, “did not even vaguely resemble grounds for executive session.”
Whether or not the Finance Board is subject to Sunshine Law is still up in the air, but the board did violate its own bylaws and the UCSU Constitution when it closed the meeting.
According to section F of the board’s bylaws, “All meetings of the Finance Board shall be open to the public.” Under article seven of the UCSU Constitution, it states that “all Joint Board meetings, policies and budget recommendations shall be open and non-secret. Input from faculty, administration and other sources shall be encouraged.” Neither the board’s bylaws or the Constitution give any provisions for closing meetings, and at the Feb. 10 meeting, Program Council director Stacey Hammond was denied access to speak about the cost center’s budget needs.
The punishment for violating the UCSU Constitution, according to the document, is removal from office. The process must be initiated by the Legislative Council and requires a two-thirds major vote of the council to finalize. CU Spokesman Bronson Hilliard said that if the Finance Board did break its own charter, the University would prefer that the students handle it themselves.
“It is not preferable for the University to punish a student-run government that defies its own charter,” Hilliard said. “We don’t have someone monitoring UCSU proceedings waiting for them to break the law.”
Hilliard went on to say that the University is waiting to see if UCSU is indeed subject to the Sunshine Law to take any action and encouraged the boards to maintain a maximum transparency to the student body until the investigation is complete.
“This has happened at other universities, but CU has never had to deal with a student government violating Sunshine, so right now, it is really an open-ended question,” Hilliard said.
Contact Campus Press staff writer Cassie Hewlings at email@example.com.