Duke Student Government’s public records contain inconsistencies in senate attendance and voting records and show a lack of enforcement of attendance policies.
According to the records, as of 7 p.m. Monday, 24 of the 57 senators currently have or have had an attendance violation, defined as two or more unexcused absences. Twelve senators have had three or more unexcused absences, which is constitutional grounds for removal, and the remaining 12 have had two unexcused absences at some point during the year—which can be considered being in bad standing and entails a loss of voting privileges, according to DSG’s house rules.
Senators with two or more unexcused absences can be referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee, which is responsible for nominating justices to the DSG Judiciary and reviewing allegations of senator misconduct, before they can be considered in bad standing or removed by the Senate.
In light of attendance issues and issues caused by senators leaving meetings early, at its March 6 meeting, the executive board discussed removing those with three or more unexcused absences, capping the number of allowed excused absences—12 senators have at least three excused absences and one has eight excused absences—and taking roll at the beginning and end of meetings to account for senators who leave early.
“We need to hold ourselves to a higher standard,” said DSG President Keizra Mecklai, a senior, at the meeting.
The Chronicle contacted several senators who have been in bad standing about their potential removal. However, many replied that their attendance record was incorrect. DSG’s attendance records have been updated several times recently to change the number of senators who have missed enough meetings for removal or could be considered in bad standing.
According to the DSG house rules, to be excused for a full absence or leave a meeting early, a senator must email Executive Vice President John Guarco, a junior, before the meeting with an excuse. Many of the senators who contested their record said that they had sent emails to Guarco about their absence and that their absences were reported incorrectly as unexcused.
“People have emailed John [Guarco], but the record hasn’t been kept adequately,” said junior Tanner Lockhead, vice president for Durham and regional affairs.
Freshman Stuart Ki, senator for Durham and regional affairs, also noted that his attendance record was incorrect. On March 6, the attendance record showed Ki with three unexcused absences. After The Chronicle contacted Ki, the record was changed to two unexcused absences.
“It was just a miscommunication,” Ki wrote in an email. “I believe it was in the beginning of the semester, when there were a lot of transitions and everything was starting up. EVP Guarco has a lot going on managing the Senate, and I don’t blame him.”
One of the senators who would have been considered in bad standing, freshman Ian Chang, wrote in an email that he resigned Feb. 21. However, the current attendance and voting record marks him as attending the Feb. 24 senate meeting and voting during a roll-call vote.
“I am not sure why I am marked as present and voting for the [Feb. 24] meeting,” Chang wrote in an email. “There is another Senator Chang, which may have caused confusion.”
The other Senator Chang, freshman Jason Chang, was also marked present and voting for the Feb. 24 meeting.
Ian Chang was removed from the attendance record during Spring Break.
Guarco noted in an email that the discrepancy was due to a switch in executive secretaries, who are responsible for keeping track of the attendance and voting records, which happened at the beginning of the semester.
The two executive secretaries are freshmen Victoria Wong and Carolyn Sun, a graphic designer for The Chronicle.
When asked about inconsistencies in the attendance and voting records, Wong declined to comment, noting that she was relatively new to DSG.
Implications of absences
More than 25 individual votes cast by senators in various roll-call votes were counted from members who would not have had voting privileges at the time of the vote if DSG attendance policies were fully enforced.
The Senate’s house rules state that, “Any senator who incurs a second or subsequent unexcused absence can be placed in bad standing. He or she may no longer vote or be recognized in any DSG matter, except to defend himself or herself in a proceeding, until discharged from bad standing by the executive vice president, or by the Senate.”
A number of senators had two or more unexcused absences on their record but had not been put into bad standing and voted during several votes this semester. Had these votes not counted, the Senate would have lacked quorum, which is the minimum number of senators required to be present at a given senate meeting to be able to vote. For senate, the minimum number for quorum is a majority of senators and vice presidents.
The Chronicle found that the Feb. 24 roll-call vote—a recorded vote at the request of senators—which put a referendum on the ballot to change the DSG constitution and give the Senate power to restructure itself would not have been possible if attendance policies were fully enforced. The referendum was later approved by the undergraduate student body, but would not have been voted on if senators with two or more unexcused absences had been put into bad standing.
A Feb. 10 vote regarding senate bylaws also might not have been possible if senators with two or more unexcused absences had been put into bad standing. During the vote, senators voted to use gender neutral pronouns of senate documents and require financial and cultural competency training for senators, Guarco explained. A majority of senators and vice presidents would have to have been present for this vote to have occurred. According to the attendance and voting record, less than half were considered present and in good standing by house rules.
There are also at least 20 instances in which senators left meetings early, according to the records. The Chronicle defined “leaving early” as being present at the start of the meeting but not being recorded during roll-call votes. Under the house rules, leaving a senate meeting early is considered an absence, but it can be excused.
If the “leaving early” policy had been enforced, at least 20 additional individual votes from senators should not have counted because certain senators would have been put in bad standing, assuming those senators would not have been excused.
Senate Judiciary Committee review
Sophomore Sean Gilbert, chair of the Senate Judiciary committee, confirmed that the committee recommended freshman Robert Rappleye, freshman Kevin Bhimani, freshman William Tong and freshman Parker Hao for immediate removal because of “nonfeasance of attendance responsibilities.”
During Spring Break, the attendance sheet was updated to reflect that that six additional senators currently have three or more unexcused absences. However, two of these senators will have an opportunity to correct the attendance record at the next senate meeting, when the previous meeting’s minutes will be approved.
“The SJC has asked for the new names with three absences to be verified for unexcused absences, and will act when we have that information,” Gilbert wrote in an email.
The DSG Executive Board met March 6 to discuss consequences for senators who left the Senate’s March 2 Senate meeting early and get an update on the work of the Senate Judiciary committee.
Gilbert noted that in the past, SJC hearings were “hard to manage” because senators would make up excuses including ignorance of the policy of emailing Guarco or that they were sick. Mecklai said those types of excuses at hearings are “unacceptable.”
Of the SJC’s six members, at least three senators have been in bad standing or are currently in bad standing. At the time of the Executive Board meeting, Gilbert had three unexcused absences.
The attendance record was later changed to indicate Gilbert only has two unexcused absences. Gilbert wrote in an email that emails and excuses were not accurately represented in the record, which was the case for many other senators.
In addition, the Board looked at senators leaving meetings early. At the beginning of the March 2 senate meeting, there were 45 senators and vice presidents, but by the end, 30 remained, depriving it of quorum.
“I have been here for four years and that was the first time I was legitimately ashamed to be a member of Duke Student Government,” senior Brian Hopkins, DSG’s president pro tempore, said at the meeting.
In the final roll call from the senate meeting March 2, the record showed freshman Josh Curtis, senator for academic affairs, was present, when in fact he was one of the two senators that explicitly left to deprive the senate of a quorum. The other was freshman Michael Brunetti, senator for services. Both senators were referred to the SJC regarding the March 9 Senate meeting. The record also showed that senior Bryan Dinner, vice president for social culture, was not present when he in fact was still at the meeting.
Since DSG had not been enforcing the policy that leaving early is the same as an unexcused absence, the Executive Board decided that executive secretaries should take attendance at the end as well as the beginning of meetings to ensure that Senators who leave early will be marked absent.
The Board originally voted to put everyone who left early during the last meeting in bad standing for two weeks. However, the Board later decided that most senators are unaware that they are required to tell Guarco when they are leaving early. The discussion also noted that putting senators who left early in bad standing would include junior Michael Norwalk, vice president for facilities and environment, and junior George Mellgard, vice president for residential life.
The Board eventually re-voted and decided to only put Curtis and Brunetti in bad standing.
Correction: This article was updated to note that the Feb. 10 vote might not have been possible only if those with two or more unexcused absences had been put into bad standing, to account for the ambiguity in the policy that states those with two unexcused absences "can" be put in bad standing. The Chronicle regrets the error.
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Class of 2019
Local and national news department head 2016-17
Born in Hyderabad, India, Likhitha Butchireddygari moved to Baltimore at a young age. She is pursuing a Program II major entitled "Digital Democracy and Data" about the future of the American democracy.