Student Association (SA) representatives last week began collecting signatures for a petition that calls for the resignation of SA President Lauren Kreiss.
The petition, drafted by Representative Joshua Cianek, is the first step in the presidential impeachment process. Ten percent of the entire student body must sign the petition before it can be submitted to the SA speaker.
Cianek created the petition after SA members passed a resolution at their March 26 meeting that condemned Kreiss, Speaker of the Association McKenna Ciner and Parliamentarian Sean Mueller for a bylaw violation and strongly encouraged Kreiss to resign.
The bylaw violation occurred when Kreiss transferred about $2,000 from the association’s reserve into the Battle of the Valleys (BOV) section of the budget. Kreiss said she did so after an accounting error led to SA actually having less money in the BOV section of the budget than they had promised the Mustard Seed Shelter, the 2017 BOV beneficiary.
The transfer violated Article V, Section 2 of the SA bylaws, which requires SA approval for budget transfers of more than $300.
In a written statement that she provided to SA members, Kreiss stated the budget inaccuracy “was not noticed until late December, but became a significant matter in mid-January.” Kreiss added that at the time of the transfer, she consulted with past SA leadership and believed the procedure was appropriate. However, after discussing it with SA Executive Assistant Raegan Schultz, they realized the transfer was a violation of the bylaws, Kreiss stated.
In addition to Kreiss speaking with past SA leadership, SA Advisor Dan Strasz said that he spoke with past leadership as well, along with former SA Advisor Dick Thompson. All parties consulted said that the type of move in question had been made in the past, and none said they were aware that it was a violation of SA bylaws, Strasz said.
“I didn’t see this as something highly mischievous or on a level that required this,” Strasz said. “I think she was trying to ensure that the charitable organization got the money that they were promised.”
After realizing the bylaw violation, Kreiss still proceeded with the funds transfer. She said due to the long process of completing an account transfer, her biggest concern was that the funds would not be provided on time. Additionally, had she waited to get SA approval, there was no guarantee that the money promised to Mustard Seed would actually be given to the shelter in the event that the association voted down the transfer.
“My options were to continue on with the transfer and know that the check will reach the charity on time or stop the transfer, try to let the house decide, and you don’t know what they’re going to decide,” Kreiss said. “We could’ve just made a promise to this charity and then we’re not going to give them the funds, you truly do not know. So, I decided I needed to go through with it; I couldn’t just not give the charity the funds that we promised them. So that’s when I made the decision to continue forward.”
At last Monday’s meeting, Cianek initially brought forth a resolution simply condemning Kreiss for the violation of the bylaw. Kreiss said the SA leadership team had intentions of bringing a similar resolution to the association, as they felt the initial condemnation was warranted.
“I felt it was important to make sure that we condemn these actions and make sure this precedent isn’t set for future association presidents,” Cianek said. “The president is being paid by student dollars, and our budget is derived from student tuition dollars. So, when someone believes they have the ability to transfer an excess amount of money with any kind of unchecked authority, I see that as not only an abuse of the students allowing her to have access to that money but also an abuse of the authority that she took on as president.”
Representative Ray Hernandez then amended the resolution to include condemnations of Ciner and Mueller, but that amendment failed when Philanthropy Chair Caitlin Coulter altered the amendment’s language, suggesting a specific wording that the body seemed to agree upon. Coulter’s version then passed, as did Cianek’s amendment that strongly encouraged Kreiss to resign.
The entire resolution passed 17-2-1, with representatives Jill Hintz and Clarence Massey voting against it and Mueller abstaining.
“I voted yes on the amendment and I voted yes on the resolution,” said Legislative Director Hunter Koch. “I think anyone who voted yes and yes should still feel that (the violation) was grounds for resignation. If they voted yes on that, they should feel that way authentically.”
Later that week, Cianek drafted the petition calling for Kreiss’ resignation and, with the help of other representatives and fellow students, began collecting student signatures. As of Saturday, Cianek said the petition had just over 200 signatures.
“The resolution strongly encouraging her to resign is non-binding,” Cianek said. “I was hoping that with this resolution, Lauren would see that stepping down is the responsible thing to do and acknowledging that mistakes were made and there are consequences. It seemed like there wasn’t much response from leadership with that resolution.”
Cianek said that on March 27, the day after the meeting, a group of concerned students reached out to him and asked what could happen next.
“It looked like SA essentially just slapped themselves on the wrist and that was it,” Cianek said. “I thought about what could happen after this, and the next step was starting the impeachment process.”
According to the SA bylaws, in order to impeach the president, a complaint with the required 10 percent of signatures must be submitted to the speaker of the association. That then triggers an extensive impeachment process.
Kreiss said she found out about the petition through word of mouth, not through Cianek.
“My reaction was, ‘Are you thinking this through? Do you understand what will happen if I leave?’” she said. “I don’t think they truly get it. They think I just go and everything will be fine, but there’s a whole different process to it.”
Kreiss, along with Strasz, also voiced concern that the petition itself does not explicitly state the violation in question. The petition states that Article V, Section 2 of the SA bylaws was deliberately violated, but it does not detail what that bylaw is.
“It doesn’t clearly state what I did wrong,” Kreiss said. “I get where they’re coming from. I’m not saying what they’re doing is bad, but they’re not doing it ethically. I don’t know what they’re saying out there. They could be totally exaggerating the story. I’m a little frustrated, because they’re screaming for transparency, but on the petition, it’s not transparent what I did wrong.”
If the petition gains the required number of signatures, a Disciplinary Action Committee comprised of five members of SVSU students, faculty, or staff will be established. The committee will then conduct a hearing within 10 business days of the date on which any complaint was submitted to the Speaker of the Association. At such a hearing, the committee will consider the matters and evidence presented and reach a conclusion. Within five business days following the conclusion of the hearing, the committee would then recommend any actions deemed necessary and proper to the association. Finally, the recommendations will be subject to action by the association, with no action being taken against the president unless confirmed by a three-fourths vote by the representatives of SA.
“I was disappointed to hear about the petition,” Strasz said. “I’ve talked to a few reps who have said that it was never their intention that this would move in this direction. My guess is most students who are going to sign this aren’t going to know what the misfeasance was. There’s nothing on (the petition) to explain it or describe it.”
Kreiss said that while she understands the concern of the representatives, she feels the actions calling for her resignation or impeachment exceed the violation. She also said she does not regret what she did and does not plan to resign.
“At the end of the day, I found an error and I fixed it, that’s ultimately what I did,” Kreiss said. “It may not have been in the steps that the association wanted, but I gave the promised funds to the charity. If I hadn’t done that, I don’t know that we would’ve given them the funds. No, I don’t regret it.”
The petition comes just as SA is electing a new president and new representatives. The timing could pose problems for the association and its attempts to transition into next academic year, Kreiss said.
“If I leave, there’s a good chance everything is going to stop,” Kreiss said. “I have not yet trained Caitlin, so if I decide to leave, who is going to train Caitlin to be president? It’s going to set her up to not have the best experience as president, and it’s not her fault.”
Cianek said that many of the concerns from students and representatives regarding the petition have to do with its timing.
“My ultimate goal with this is to follow the bylaws and proceed with the impeachment process,” Cianek said. “Even if the impeachment process doesn’t see its end, simply spreading awareness to students and making them aware of what’s going on and what’s happened, I think that’s an excellent way to place a check over the association and make sure that students next year are much more engaged with what the association is doing.”
The next SA meeting is set to take place a week from today, Monday, April 9, at 10:15 p.m. in the Alumni Lounge.
“The big question going forward is whether or not the association is willing to back up its vote on the resolution,” Koch said. “The vote totals explain where the association is on this, because that’s the only official statement that anyone has made is by those two votes. Those are the official statements of these elected officials.”