By Вen Li
At 1:19 a.m. on Wednesday, the Students’ Legislative Council found that Academic Commissioner Gavin Preston violated the su Governance bylaws by lying to SLC. The decision to suspend Preston from his slc and Students’ Academic Assembly duties until he apologizes in writing to slc came after over two hours of deliberations by the slc Committee of Hearing, which refused the option of sending the matter directly to the su Review Board.
Cleared on charges of over-reporting the number of hours he worked in June, Preston was enraged by SLC Speaker T. J. Nosshi’s refusal to conduct the vote by roll call, storming out of Council Chambers immediately after the 16–3 decision was handed down.
Immediately after chair Irene Enyedy presented the Committee of Hearing’s recommendations, Preston stood and demanded the roll-call vote.
"You are out of order," asserted Nosshi to Preston. "I’m sorry Mr. Preston, I have to proceed with voting procedures now!"
At the advice of the boisterous gallery–consisting of some former slc members and supporters of Preston–he challenged Nosshi’s ruling that su bylaws required an immediate vote which could not be conducted by roll-call.
"I challenge the chair on this!" Preston repeatedly shouted as the vote was still being tallied. "No, you cannot do this!" continued Preston, referring to Nosshi’s decision not to acknowledge Preston’s challenge.
In standard parliamentary proceedings, a member may request that the chair of the meeting explain his rulings on matters of procedure. While Preston’s motion did not receive the required support of a seconder, members of the gallery supported his challenge.
"T.J., you know you made the wrong decision," cried one observer.
"You have to at least acknowledge him!" came another.
The controversial end to the hearing was the result of a month-long process to determine if Preston had violated SU bylaws by getting paid in June for hours he did not alledgedly work that month. Charges were brought by SU Vice-President Academic Rosie Nagra.
At the hearing, Nagra presented evidence which paralleled her Aug. 16 submission to Enyedy. Nagra claimed that her evidence showed Preston had not in fact worked for 20 hours on the pipe-smoking resolution as he claimed in his June report. Also at issue were remarks by Preston at the seventh SLC meeting on July 23 relating to commissioner remuneration (see below). In those comments, Preston presented what he called a hypothetical situation describing how a commissioner could obtain more pay from the SU than deserved, comments which he apologized for in the eighth SLC meeting on Aug. 6.
"It’s obvious that Gavin Preston was giving an account of how he abuses the system," said Nagra at the hearing which began Tuesday night. "The context of Preston’s speech is very clear. It is impossible to distort his intentions."
Preston–known for his impassioned but sometimes detrimental style of argument–has always maintained that his remarks in the seventh meeting were hypothetical rhetorical devices intended to show flaws in the commissioner remuneration system. Preston asserts he has never falsely stated his hours worked in his monthly reports to Nagra, who determines the remuneration her commissioners receive.
"I did not lie on my report," said Preston at the hearing. "But I have little or no evidence that I didn’t. This amounts to he said/she said."
Preston’s suspension from his duties and privileges is the result of what others on SLC have privately called a personal conflict between Preston and Nagra. The hearing was marked with instances of Preston and Nagra trading accusations ultimately unsubstantial to the case.
"We are here not because I broke SU bylaws," said Preston at the hearing. "It is because Ms. Nagra doesn’t like me and has gathered evidence against me.
"Instead of coming to me and talking, she went to a lawyer," Preston continued.
Nagra maintained that the issue was not about personality but money and lies.
"The [personalities] have nothing to do with the case at hand." said Nagra at the hearing. "Gavin Preston violated a number of bylaws and will suffer the consequences for doing so."
Also at issue was the way in which legal counsel was involved in the matter. Nagra contacted the SU lawyer in August, prior to filing her application for a hearing on August 16. Preston was notified of the proceedings against him on Thu., Aug. 29, giving him five business days to compose a formal response to the charges by Thu., Sept. 5.
"I asked the SU lawyer if he could clarify [hearing bylaws]," explained Nagra at the hearing. "I was unsure of the bylaws so I asked him for the proper procedure for doing so. This was not appointing legal counsel, this was asking him to clarify."
Neither party was represented by legal counsel at the hearing.
Preston claims that because of the timing of the filing and the short notice given to him–more notice than was required, contended Nagra–he was unable to obtain outside legal assistance.
"I didn’t get the legal help I needed–I couldn’t," said Preston at the hearing. "I went to Student Legal Assistance but I couldn’t get help from them until September 22."
Despite his lack of legal assistance, Preston was pleased with the proceedings and the outcome of the hearing.
"I find it agreeable by a long shot," said Preston on Wednesday. Preston could have been disqualified from both SLC and SAA by the Committee of Hearing.
"It [the decision] validates the fact that I didn’t steal students’ money. I will not appeal it," he said.
Nagra was also satisfied with the outcome.
"I appreciated SLC’s attention to the issue, and was very encouraged by the maturity and integrity shown by council," said Nagra on Wednesday. "I was encouraged by the fact that they [the Committee of Hearing] adequately reviewed the material, and did find Gavin Preston in violation of the bylaws [regarding his conduct in slc], even if I differed [in opinion] on the appropriate sanctions."
Nagra sought Preston’s removal from office, a published apology, and a review of Preston’s June report. Preston was stressed by the experience which he said consumed about 53 hours of unpaid time.
"What’s funny is that the punishment in the resolution is exactly what I had suggested before the request for hearing began," said Preston, who considered resigning during the ordeal. "I never wanted it to drag on this long."
Preston will now submit a letter conforming to the resolution at a future SLC meeting, which must be approved by SLC before he can resume his office as an Academic Commissioner. Preston said that he learned from the experience.
"It’s taught me a lot of stuff about trust," he said on Wednesday. "I trusted Ms. Nagra to be a reasonable person. She has taken this to the extreme which has caused a lot of problems. It has already caused problems by dividing SLC."
Nagra believes that despite the strife, Preston will succeed as a commissioner.
"Gavin has shown that he can be a dedicated commissioner," she said. "Hopefully, he’ll come to understand the seriousness of his actions, especially as he is a leader of this organization. I hope he will learn from the process and become an even more effective student representative and a more productive colleague on council."
SU President Matt Stambaugh supports the decision of the Committee of Hearing, stating that the in camera discussion was well-balanced.
"I think students’ interests have been served as the process set out in their bylaws was followed regarding commissioner Preston, and an overwhelming majority of SLC agreed with the recommendation," said Stambaugh on Wednesday. "I hope that Mr. Preston will continue his hard work on slc, and will be able to move past any animosity towards Ms. Nagra or the rest of council. A process was followed, a punishment levied, but Mr. Preston is still going to be able to continue as an Academic Commissioner and serve students until the end of his term."
Prior to the proceedings against him on September 10, Preston successfully carried constitutional amendments through SLC which, among other things, officially created the Academic Commission. Preston currently chairs the SLC communications committee and is working on a number of other issues.
Be it resolved that pursuant to section 14(c) of the Governance Bylaws the 60th Students’ Legislative Council finds Gavin Preston in violation of the Governance Bylaws of the Students’ Union, and is deserving of the following punishment:
Mr. Preston will be suspended from all SLC- and SAA-related duties and privileges until a written and oral apology is received and approved by SLC. This apology will also be made public. The letter will reference Mr. Preston’s misinformation presented during SLC, an apology to students for lying to SLC, and recognition that his actions reflect on the Students’ Union, the SLC, and the SAA as a whole, as well as an acknowledgement that elected officials are accountable for what they say in SLC and SAA meetings.
Moved: I. Enyedy
Seconded: M. Stambaugh
Tenth SLC meeting, September 10–11, 2002
"The other disagreement I have with that I’m just concerned that somebody could lie with their hours easily. The pipe smoking thing. I’ll be honest, to say I exaggerated on how long I worked on that um… those who actually read my report would know that I did exaggerate on that very much. The reason on why I did that was because I was rather angry about it and I just said "You know what, I’m going to charge the su as much as I can for that (laughs) and that’s a brutal thing to say but it’s true. I mean I wanted three hundred dollars because I had to screw around with pipe smoking when it should have taken fifteen minutes. So, I knew the rest of you would seriously realize that and that’s just my little comments."
Gavin Preston, Seventh SLC meeting, July 23, 2002
ED: Oops. Those were bylaw amendments, not constitutional amendments.