Free pizza leads to possible impeachment
It all started with a pizza party on the quad. A pizza party that ended in one student facing alleged campaign violations, non-representation, misappropriation, disqualification, impeachment and even accusations of “money laundering.” Disqualification
The motivation and intentions behind the Feed the Students event on the quad last Tuesday have been heavily contested.
The contention stems from Matthew Nicholson’s conflicting duties and responsibilities as the Associated Students director of activities and as a candidate in the 2014 AS election. There is also an ongoing debate over the alleged misuse of funds.
Despite the pizza giveaway being an AS sponsored event, the Elections Committee held a meeting and voted unanimously on Thursday to disqualify him from the election for his involvement in the Feed the Students event.
Nicholson claims he was never notified of the meeting and was not present during the decision making process.
“Making a ruling without me being there, I don’t care what the election code says, it’s not right in a moral sense,” he said. ”I feel that I was unjustly and maliciously disqualified from the election.”
According to the Chair of the Election Committee, Jasmine Jafari, the committee is not required to notify candidates of when there’s an infraction against them. Once they make a decision, in this case to disqualify Nicholson, the action is effective immediately.
On Monday that decision was upheld at an Election Committee appeals hearing.
Nicholson allegedly failed to represent and promote the AS by wearing an Alumni Association t-shirt at the event instead of an AS t-shirt. In addition there were no promotional materials (banners, pins) present to make it clear that Feed the Students was an AS event.
The ambiguous nature of the intent behind the free pizza is what forced the Election Committee to disqualify Nicholson as well as the fact that the table for the free pizza was located around campaign stakes.
“We had a candidate who was also a director, who wasn’t being completely transparent about the source and use of funding for an AS event,” Jafari said.
Since Nicholson was handing out pizzas, items with inherent value, he violated the election code.
“Candidates can’t give anything with added value, he was giving away slices of pizza,” Jafari said. “The rules for giving away those slices of pizza was that it would be clearly marked as an AS event. Since it wasn’t, it counts as campaigning.”
Another major allegation against Nicholson is his alleged misuse and misappropriation of AS funds. However, Nicholson said that he did not misuse any funds because he claims Tuesday’s Feed the Students event did not use any AS funding.
“I’ve had such trouble with the board,” Nicholson said. “What I’ve been doing is going around to places and businesses that I have a previous relationship with and getting donations.”
Reasoning that the event wasn’t funded by the AS, Nicholson claims he was not obligated to promote the AS.
Nicholson however, receives a weekly allotment of $1,000 to fund Feed the Students as well as other events on campus. The director of activities is the only position on the board to receive an allotment.
Why Nicholson chose to fund Tuesday’s Feed the Students activity with donations as opposed to his allotment funds is unclear. At Monday’s AS meeting the board voted to remove his allotment and stripped him of his ability to put on any future Feed the Students events.
Per fiscal policy, if Nicholson received donations he is required to fill out forms and paperwork for the sake of transparency.
Nicholson faces impeachment from his seat as director of activities at the next AS meeting unless he can provide a record of where the funding came from. Nicholson claims that a stipulation of the donations is that he keeps his sources of funding confidential.
The entire situation has brought the specific duties of directors into question as well as the function and purpose of public meeting minutes. At Monday’s meeting the board spent over an hour voting on action item 11.1 regarding the alleged misuse of funds.
Emotions ran high throughout the meeting as Nicholson repeatedly stated that the stipulations that were alleged to have been placed on the event were “not in the minutes,” causing Associate Dean of Student Life Sonali Bridges to interject to point out that their minutes are not meant to be a verbatim recording of the events.
Student Advisor Benny Blaydes echoed this sentiment stating that minutes from meetings are rough summaries. They do not necessarily quote what was said at meetings, they are meant to document what was done at meetings.
AS President Ty Moura struggled to maintain order throughout the proceedings, relying on her gavel and raised her voice multiple times at multiple directors.
Director of Budget Management Inayat Issa even accused Nicholson of money laundering.
“Misuse of funds is money laundering which is grounds for impeachment.,” Issa stated during the meeting.
Nicholson stated multiple times that he felt as though the entire meeting was an attack on his character. At times he was openly attacked by other board members, with Michael Greenberg, director of publicity clearly telling him to “Please resign,” during discussion.
Acknowledging the meeting proceedings breaking down, Bridges suggested that the topic had been exhausted
“I encourage you to finish your motion, vote upon it and stop the discussion because we do need to move forward,” she said.
She also pointed out the questionable behavior of some AS members singling out Nicholson stating, “The bashing of Matt and the innuendos and everything else stops.”
Deyna Hearn, dean of student life, felt compelled to intervene at one point warning the board of directors that they were potentially on the verge of violating the Brown Act.
The AS attempted to add action item 11.2 to the agenda, demanding that Nicholson provide records and documentation of his funding for the pizzas to Bridges. Failure to do so would result in impeachment, and pressing a vote on the matter in the same meeting would have been a clear violation of the Brown Act.
“Is it appropriate during the meeting to add an item to the agenda, an action item?” asked Hearn. According to the act “No action or discussion shall be undertaken on any item not on the agenda.”
However, the board eventually rejected the motion and amended item 11.1 to include the stipulation regarding documentation.
Nicholson has until Monday April 7, to reveal his donation sources or face impeachment at the next AS meeting.
To finally conclude the topic, Director of Student Affairs Kseniya Lyalina said “It seems like everyone made up their opinion already. I just want to say that Matt is innocent until proven guilty. I don’t want anybody to make an opinion on this.”
She turned to Nicholson and said “Matt I hope you can prove us wrong, I don’t want anything to happen to anyone of us like this. Good luck, seriously, good luck.”