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Ethics complaint leaves Student Senate in limbo

May 6, 2010

Student Senate decided at Tuesday’s meeting that the Presidential election redo will occur on May 12 and 13, according to Interim President Jordan Harshman.

The elections are being redone due to an ethics complaint filed by former Student Senate President Josh Brock against current Senate presidential candidate Nikki Shonoiki set off a string of events in the Student Senate offices that has left the body’s leadership unclear for several weeks.

According to Brock, Shonoiki campaigned prior to the time allowed by Student Senate bylaws during an interview she did for WRFW.

“I felt [Shonoiki] had campaigned early,” Brock said.

The complaint, which would’ve removed Shonoiki from the ballot if fully upheld, was then heard in an ethics meeting held by Student Senate.  When the complaint was validated, Brock said, it moved to mediation.  When a resolution could not be reached between the two parties, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Greg Heinselman was called in to act as an arbitrator to make a final decision on the issue.

Heinselman’s final decision was to hold a do-over of the presidential election that Shonoiki won was one that could have been overturned by a two-thirds majority vote of the Senate. The appeal to revoke Heinselman’s solution was voted down sharply with no votes to overturn and 11 that concurred with the resolution.  Six senators abstained from voting on the issue, according to Senate records.

Brock said that Heinselman’s decision to hold another election was not what he had originally intended, but he would respect the ruling.

“I wanted to make sure the elections were carried out fairly,” he said. “The election rules set out the times a candidate can campaign.  I just wanted the documents enforced. I’m satisfied with the decision.”

Shonoiki said she feels Heinselman’s decision solved nothing.

“It slaps a band-aid on the issue,” she said.  “They never resolved it.  It’s unfair because I was technically the president.  They should have at least ruled on the complaint.”

WRFW reporter and show host Jaime Babb conducted the interview that spurred Brock’s complaint in early March, Babb said.

“I interviewed Nikki and we talked about a lot of topics because she’s in so many student organizations,” she said. “I asked her what else is going on and she mentioned she was thinking about running for Senate president.  Of course I’m going to jump all over that.”

Article 2, Section A of the Student Senate Election Rules defines campaigning as, “Any activity that is intended to influence voting at an election.”

Candidates are not allowed to campaign until the petition date for candidacy has passed, according to the document.  The petition date for the election was April 12.

According to Babb, Shonoiki was purposely hesitant to say anything further about her candidacy.

“She did not tell me to vote for her or anyone else,” Babb said. “All she did was tell me she might be running and she encouraged other students to get involved in Student Senate.  The interview didn’t even air.”

When then-President Brock and Allocable Fee Appropriation Board Chair Tyler Halverson found out about the interview, they requested a copy of the audio and the subsequent story and Babb obliged.

“I didn’t think it was that big of a deal,” Babb said.

Because of the incident, Shonoiki said the Senate bylaws will be adjusted if she is elected.

“We’re going through and changing the bylaws and election rules to make them less vague,” she said. “The new ones will be clear and set-in-stone to avoid this confusion in the future.”

Babb said she feels Student Senate officials need to be more familiar with the relationship between the media and government.

“The bottom line is a reporter asked a question and [Shonoiki] answered it.  It appeared as if Student Senate was trying to prevent [Shonoiki] from running.  [Student Senate officials] didn’t understand the media’s role and they made it a lot bigger deal than it is.”

Shonoiki said she’ll be glad when the issue is finally resolved.

“I’ve gone through the ringer and I don’t think any other student should have too,” she said. “This whole process has been emotionally draining.