February 22, 1999

Impeachment discussed, rejected at SGA meeting

by Josh Renaud
staff assistant

UM-St. Louis student Rosalind Harris reads her letter addressed to SGA President Jim Avery at last Thursday's SGA meeting.
photo by Stephanie Platt

A UM-St. Louis student read an open letter to Student Government Association President Jim Avery at Thursday's SGA meeting, setting off a heated discussion of his presidency.

Rosalind Harris said she was trying to raise awareness of the issue of Avery's absence from senate and chancellor's cabinet meetings. These absences have damaged the relationship between students and the UM-St. Louis administration, she said, since he represents the students to the administration. Avery was not present at the meeting.

Avery said an emergency delayed his arrival until after the meeting had adjourned.

". . . You are taking too much for granted and you are doing the students an injustice in the process," Harris read at the meeting. "Mr. Avery, your recalcitrance has contributed to the debasement of the student-administration relationship. We are paying for your apathy. . ."

After Harris finished reading the letter, representatives began to applaud. The floor was opened for questions and comments, and many students voiced agreement with Harris' letter. Some said they were uncomfortable talking about Avery without his presence at the meeting.

SGA Vice President Michael Rankins responded to some of the comments by saying he thought Avery's presidency started off well, but deteriorated after miscommunications with the administration and other student leaders.

"I know one turning point for Jim was when he tried to get the 'Barenaked Ladies' here," Rankins said. "He had worked on that for about four months very diligently, and unfortunately he couldn't get them here to the campus because no one would reschedule the volleyball game.

"That was very frustrating to him, and that combined with a few other things kind of burned him out. Now that's not an appropriate response, but what I'm saying is that it's an understandable response."

Comptroller Benjamin Ash apologized for some of the mistakes he and the other SGA officers had made during the year.

"I've seen student governments be very, very good and I've seen student governments be not quite so good," Ash said. "This one is probably among the bottom that I've seen so far. It's unfortunate, but as with any organization you have some high points and you have some low points."

Sarah Welch, UM student curator, said she felt the assembly should approach Avery directly and address the problems of his absences and his alleged failure to post office hours or return phone calls.

"You can impeach [Avery] if you don't like what he's doing or if you feel like he's breaking the rules," she said. "You pay him over five-thousand dollars a year, [so] you should expect something in return. If you aren't getting what you want, then you should bring it to him."

Some discussed impeachment but Ash recommended against it, saying it was too late to begin the procedure. If an impeachment resolution was brought forward at the March meeting, he said, Avery would have one month to respond to the Student Court, so it would be April before the Court could reach a decision. The winter semester ends in May.

"Speaking from a realistic timeline, an impeachment at this point would more or less just be a slap on the wrist," Ash said. "Jim waited until the second semester before it really started to go downhill."

Some at the meeting like student Sharone Hopkins defended Avery saying that he had done much to promote student involvment during his first term. Hopkins felt students upset with the president should express their concerns to Avery, rather than impeach him.

No impeachment resolution was brought.

After the meeting, Harris said Avery should address the students and resolve to repair the damage he has done to the relationship between the students and the administration.

"The next one or two SGA presidents are going to have to face the reputation that Jim Avery has established when they go on to deal with the administration," she said. "You cannot deny that what he has done will have an effect on the future."

Avery said that the relationship between himself and the administration was not damaged, even though he had missed some chancellor's cabinet and senate meetings.

"It's hard to get into the rythym of going to a meeting if they don't have them on a regular basis," Avery said. "I just had dinner with Gary Grace [vice chancellor for Student Affairs] and he understood a lot about what is going on. There don't seem to be any problems."

Harris said she had met other concerned students after the meeting and they would be researching what options were available for taking action against Avery.

"I don't believe it is fair for Jim Avery to be able to use the SGA presidency as one of his credentials for the rest of his life if he didn't meet the constitutional requirements for being president," she said.

The constitution doesn't say anything about going to senate meetings, Avery responded. He said he had done only an average job this year, after having a great year last year, and that people were probably concerned because they couldn't see him doing anything.

He went on to say he had been overcommitted lately, working as a biology teacher assistant, coaching high school basketball, mentoring young men, and preparing to enter law school.

"If people aren't happy with what I've been doing, I just ask them to give me a second chance," Avery said. "I just ask them to give me a couple weeks to cut out some of those commitments I had, now that I know there are these concerns."

This article was reprinted with permission from The Current.

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