SGA fails to uphold transparency requirements, Holechko petitions for removal
April 30, 2023
As DePaul continues to face its $56.5 million budget gap, calls for radical transparency echo throughout all corners of the university’s administration. The lack of transparency in DePaul’s discussions regarding the financial state of the university has led to a deeper look into all areas of the university. Reporting last week revealed one branch of the joint council, Student Government Association (SGA), has not upheld its constitutionally mandated transparency requirements — unnoticed by the student body.
The transparency requirements laid out in the organization’s constitution include the publishing of the budget on SGA’s website, DeHub and social media, in addition to being shared with campus media following its ratification in September after the General Body approved it. The constitution also requires the publishing of meeting minutes and an annual transparency report by the end of spring quarter.
However, after a request from The DePaulia, the budget for the 2022-23 school year was uploaded to SGA’s website on Thursday, April 27. SGA President Kevin Holecko acknowledged this was the first time in years anyone has shown interest in the organization’s finances.
“This is the first time that The DePaulia has reached out requesting comment regarding the budget,” Holechko said. “[This is] the first time anyone has taken an interest in our budget beyond student government … I’m happy to provide that.”
However, at the time of publishing, no meeting minutes or annual transparency report were available through SGA’s website prior to fall 2020.
Courtney James, SGA’s staff sponsor and director of the Office of Student Involvement (OSI), said the lack of an updated budget was unintentional.
“The non-compliance of posting budgets for the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 school year was a clerical error that came about due to an opening in the advising team,” said James in a statement to The DePaulia. “With the shift in all levels of staffing that the university will see moving forward, SGA will need to continue to evaluate elements of their constitution and how they serve the student body while OSI has potentially less personnel resources to offer the organization for clerical support.”
In an internal document obtained by The DePaulia, Holechko submitted an amendment to the SGA Constitutional Revisions Board (CRB) on Jan. 24 that proposed the removal of seven clauses from SGA’s constitution. Included in this proposal was the removal of the aforementioned transparency requirements in addition to removing clauses regarding the approval of the organization’s budget.
Its budget transparency requirement also details the presentation of the SGA budget to the senate for approval. This has also not been done in the current school year.
“I don’t remember there being a discussion about it,” said Chloe Crosby, Senator for Disabled Students, a member of the Constitutional Revisions Board.
Since the extent of the budget gap became public on April 10, much criticism from stakeholders in DePaul’s community has surrounded transparency from the Strategic Resource Allocation Committee (SRAC). In particular, faculty believe the group could have shared more regarding their work on the budget over the past few months, knowing SRAC’s efforts were well underway by Jan. 11.
Holechko also said he petitioned for its removal out of practicality.
“Back in winter quarter when we do our constitutional revisions, I recommended that we just simply remove that clause to make it mandatory,” Holechko said. “Why is it like a policy on our books, if we don’t enforce it, and why is it like a policy at all? If there wasn’t even like, unnecessary like, need for it because like, students can still request the budget.”
Holechko, who serves as a member of SRAC, submitted his proposal to remove transparency requirements to the CRB two weeks after a representative of the group detailed a $11.4 million shortfall, via Faculty Council meeting notes.
This academic year, SGA received a budget of $14,867.16. Their last reported budget was $16,548 in the 2017-18 school year, via The DePaulia.
The organization’s budget is broken down into 10 categories, with most funding allocated to “awards, gifts, & promotional items, supplies, catering expenses and entertainment.”
As of April 18, SGA has used $10,085.99 of its budget. In one category, catering expenses, SGA has already exceeded its budget of $3,000, by $82.91. The next biggest category is $1,828.45 in the “awards, gifts, & promotional item” category.
These funds are paid to Chartwells, the company that provides dining services for DePaul and catering throughout the university, including SGA events.
While SGA did comply with The DePaulia’s request for its operating budget, most of the information does not give a description of what the funds were spent on.
In his accompanying statement given to the CRB, Holechko wrote, “Over the course of two years, nearly all of the things outlined have not been done or students have not come forward demanding new levels of transparency.”
Holechko also said in an interview with The DePaulia, that many of the transparency requirements were added to create reasons to push out members of SGA.
“At least in my early years in the student government, I could see from those who had written those recommendations and changes to the constitution, the people who were in those roles at the time, who would have those new responsibilities,” Holechko said. “I knew they didn’t have great working relationships. And so for me, it was like, well, this isn’t about accountability, transparency, or any of that, it’s about getting at this person and trying to essentially get rid of them.”
He also said he realizes that transparency has taken a backseat in SGA and hopes the next administration will give information as requested, without question.
Crosby, a member of the CRB, said Holechko’s proposed amendments did not make it past the closed discussion.
“I believe he [Holechko] did,” Crosby said. ”But then we vetoed those … if we veto one of the requests, then they don’t make it to the general body.”
Holechko also said that the CRB ultimately did not hold the same opinion and voted it down.
The candidates for SGA president and vice president also addressed their positions on increased transparency.
Running mates Parveen Mundi, EVP for Student Affairs, and Avery Schoenhals, EVP for Facility Operations, believe that just posting the records may not be the most effective way to get information to students.
“I mean, I think we’re definitely open to that [posting budgets and meeting minutes],” Mundi said. “I think what would even be helpful is maybe after like the general body meeting for the week posting like a recap of … the big issues … maybe like the big comments that members of the general body we’re making, our general consensus on things might be more helpful than like a record of who said, yeah, the order that people were speaking in.”
Sergio Godinez, EVP for Academic Affairs, and Crosby — Mundi and Schoenhals opponents — believe posting the minutes would be a step in the right direction.
“Our slogan is ‘leading with transparency,’ and we are passionate about that,” Crosby said. “I think just making sure they get posted is like one of the first steps towards that. And I don’t know if there’s anything else besides making sure they get posted and making sure the students know what’s going on. I think if we have a newsletter that will be helpful.”