The first debate: Plagued with vagueness and unanswered questions, the debate gave an indication of SGA’s possible future

Few candidates appeared to have specific strategies to achieve their goals last Thursday night at the first of two Student Government Association election debates.

While the executive board candidates had specific goals, such as transparency, maintaining a balanced budget, establishing a 24-hour library and having constant interaction with students, there were few specific strategies to achieve them.

Most candidates could not present a detailed plan of how they wanted to tackle the issues they thought were important to students.

The first debate, between the candidates for Vice President of Budget and Finance, Tyler Lewis and Deyvid Madzahrov, seemed to be the most detailed of the entire night.Screen shot 2013-04-04 at 8.27.08 AM

“People are going to have questions, saying, ‘boy, that’s a lot of money that they control’ and so I just want to be available,” Lewis said, addressing the issue of transparency. “I want to enhance the place the committee meeting are being held. I want to make them more available, whether they are in the library or in the cafeteria. Just see where the student are that are actually interested, and go to them.”

While both Lewis and Madzahrov felt that transparency was a big issue, Madzahrov said a “fiscal conservative” approach to the budget is what is needed in the position.

He said that the $7,000 retreat that the SGA took was an example of the problem. He felt it was not necessary and was excessive.

However, Madzahrov did not provide an alternative and only said that the current SGA should not have taken the trip.

The responses given to questions pulled from Twitter were also very vague.

One of the questions, directed at the candidates for Vice President of Student Services, Casey Vaughan and Lanier Henson, asked what plan of action the candidates had to ensure students knew of the services provided by the university.

“The problem of students not being aware of student services is because is feel there is a lack of student involvement on campus in general,” Henson said.

“Many students come to school, go to class and go home.They don’t know about services like the Digital Aquarium at all. But once the services are to the point where they need to be, you’re going to want to use them. Once [the school] is known for all of its great services, there is not going to be an excuse not to use them.”

After Henson failed to answer the question, Sabastian Wee, the debate’s moderator and Editor-in-Chief of The Signal, had to step in and ask Henson again what his action plan was.

Henson, again, did not give any detailed plan, but only reiterated his initial answer.

Vagueness was not the only thing to plague the debate.

Only a handful issues were addressed Thursday night, including transparency and

visibility most prominently.

“It is fundamentally important that we actually know what is going on and while it is okay to say ‘we did it’ and ‘we publicized the rest’ that is not enough,” candidate for SGA President Andrew Whyte said. “We can sit here all day and say ‘oh we did this and we tried to tell you but you didn’t listen,’ but that is not good enough.”
The main problem tackled was the current SGA’s ineffective interaction with students through multiple platforms–though most candidates who attacked that also said that they would walk around campus to talk to students to see what they would like to see.

The idea of a 24-hour library was also brought up.

The candidates never said how they would plan to fund such a project, though some attacked the notion saying the cost would be too high because they would have to pay for 24-hour staff to ensure the safety of the students since there are no cameras on the upper floors.

But, a more troubling revelation was many candidates either weren’t aware of the responsibilities and powers of the positions or did not express that to the audience.

“I would define the role of VP of Budget and Finance as overlooking the budget making sure that allocations to other student organizations are done in the best way possible,” Madzahrov said.

Per the SGA’s constitution, the Vice President of Budget and Finance is more of a guide, tracking the SGA’s expenditures and ensuring they act according to the university’s financial guidelines when spending money.

The second part of Madzahrov’s answer would be out of his jurisdiction. While he would be able to warn the committees and the senate that they might be spending more money than they should on a specific item, he would not be able to keep them from doing so.

This misunderstanding of their respective positions was clearer with candidates for Vice President of Public Relations.

“My plans [to facilitate communication between the SGA and students] are three tier,” said Camryn Bradley, candidate for vice president of public relations. “Definitely to connect with the organizations that we have on campus, going into meetings and asking their opinions on different issues and to get feedback from the students.”

The SGA’s constitution defines the VP of Public Relations’ duties as more of an outward position, taking information to students rather than from students to the SGA.

What the Vice Presidential debates lacked in detail they made up for in attempting to answer questions asked by the moderator. The Presidential and Executive Vice Presidential debate was not so.

Straying off topic was rampant through the main debate.

Christian Hill, candidate for SGA president, continued to address other issues after giving his answers

“One of the things that is important to understand is that SGA is an exclusive body,” Hill said in a rebuttal after he had an opportunity to answer a question concerning what he would do to improve the position.  “Nothing we do, we do independently. In terms of improving the position I plan to follow in the steps of our current President by making sure we are maintaining the internal aspect of SGA, increasing transparency on campus.”

It became apparent after a few minutes that none of the questions presented by the moderator were going to be fully answered and no specific plans were going to be given to tackle the few issues addressed in the SGA debate.

When it came time for questions from students and social media, candidates became more direct in their answers.

“[Are] they going to share ALL of the [SGA] documents?” one student tweeted, highlighting the disconnect between the SGA and the student body.

All the documents such as minutes are available for students online and at their request, Hill said.

However, the minutes posted were only recently updated after a Signal article noted that the SGA had not posted the minutes online since Nov. 29.

Another student tweeted, “Should there be quotas on representatives from certain student organizations?”

George Avery said that he did not believe that those students who were involved in certain organizations should suffer because they wanted to be more involved.

Though several social media and student questions remained unanswered, many students felt that the debate had been lively and engaging. The debate blew up the Twittersphere, becoming the third trending item in Atlanta.

“I thought it was very informative,” student Jordan Campbell said. “All the candidates seemed pretty prepared with what they had to say. It’s going to be a competitive race, that’s for sure. All the presidential candidates seemed equally qualified. So I guess we have to see what happens.”

Social media responses were not so kind.

“I keep hearing ‘I think,’ ‘I hope,’ ‘we should,’ ‘like,’ and ‘maybe…is anybody certain of their platform?!?” one student tweeted.

 

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