even in student government $$$$ soon becomes the main issue


Hanson: Co-op flop brings in the green for USG
by Macy Hanson

Macy Hanson
The State Press

This year's finalized Undergraduate Student Government budget, as reported by The State Press on Friday, includes $2,445 in raises for members of the executive staff. These raises (an additional $1,735 for USG director of public relations and $710 for the assistant director of government relations) come from a leftover $10,000 originally allocated for a now defunct Bike Co-op.

This Bike Co-op, which served students by repairing their bicycles on campus, has disbanded after no reasonable home for it could be found. According to USG President Sophie O'Keefe-Zelman, the only available location was in Sonora Hall, which quite obviously would be far too inconvenient for most students.

As a result of these location issues, the $10,000 set aside for the Bike Co-op was freed up. It was then split among several different areas, but nearly half of the money went to public relations and government relations in two forms--operations funding and salary increases.

And in these salary increases lies the controversy. Questions centering on accountability, perception and judgment certainly come to mind as ASU students have faced continual tuition increases in the past few years.

In an interview with USG President O'Keefe-Zelman, she justified the salary increases by stating that she sees them as necessary to improving the PR department on behalf of all ASU undergraduates.

"We want a better PR department," said O'Keefe-Zelman. "If we don't have an active PR person, students will never know what's going on. Part of our reason for increasing salaries is that the PR director made only $1,165 a year."

Although acting on good intentions, President O'Keefe-Zelman and Vice President Julie Johnson's call for salary increases create the possibility of negative perception.

It seems far too shady that as soon as allocated funds become unused, USG administration increased the pay of their own appointees. After all, USG may have fewer reservations about requesting funds for programs shrouded in doubt if they know that the leftover money could easily be used to increase their own salaries.

But upon further research, these fears become nothing more than false gut reactions. According to O'Keefe-Zelman, the funds for the Bike Co-op were originally recommended by former USG president Brandon Goad. Additionally, O'Keefe-Zelman avowed that USG--including the Bike Co-op funding--received the same amount of money that they did last year. "We had $10,000 that we had to put into other places, otherwise we'd lose it," O'Keefe-Zelman stated.

These raises do not warrant concerns about USG conspiring to make themselves wealthy at the expense of the student body. However, questions about the judgment behind these raises deserve asking.

Senior Senator Ricardo Vasquez, who represents the W.P. Carey School of Business, has some worries about the salary increases.

"What I'm concerned with is if we are going to be giving raises, I am going to expect more productivity from these people because we are doubling their salaries. Second, I want more accountability. There hasn't been a whole lot of accountability between the Senate and the executive branch."

Vasquez also mentioned that he will fight to make USG more efficient with how it spends the students' money, and ultimately, he will fight to make student government more accountable to the ASU students. It should be noted that Vasquez was the only senator not to vote for this year's budget, as he abstained.

This is absolutely the right attitude to have. Student government largely comes across as aristocratic, in the sense that most ASU students don't know what is happening. But it would be unfair to blame this disconnect solely on USG.

Voter turnout in last year's student government election was a measly 11 percent. But the overall laziness of the ASU student body did not alone cause this apathy. The complexities of student government make it extremely difficult for anyone not directly involved in their affairs to understand what is going on. Also, students' lives are way too busy to go to the student government meetings.

All in all, the recent news surrounding USG's budget makes it clear to me that we need to inform students about student government activities. Maybe as O'Keefe-Zelman suggested, the increased funding to the PR department will help students understand their government better.

In order for Student Government to be truly democratic, students need to be significantly more involved then they currently are. Hopefully through the collaborative efforts of USG, student media and the student body at large, this problem can be reduced.

Macy Hanson is a political science and philosophy sophomore. Reach him at macy.hanson@asu.edu.

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