Efficient, tenacious, but not for everyone

By Вen Li

The VP Operations and Finance ensures the facilities and businesses of the Students’ Union are run well. This includes building maintenance and redevelopment, providing clubs with offices, and ensuring that the SU student and retail partners are well cared for. Many administrative items, such as the budget, travel and conference funding, bylaws and elections are also the responsibility of the portfolio.

Elected officials have two roles. They represent electors’ best interests, and are trusted to make good decisions on behalf of their constituents.

Students’ Union Vice-President Operations and Finance Gavin Preston fulfilled the representative part of his mandate, accomplishing nearly all of his campaign promises as ratified by students who elected him. Preston’s successes this year include the renewed health and dental plan, the best possible U-Pass renewal terms, decreasing SU fees, more clubs offices, completing the used bookstore and copy centre, increasing non-student revenue generation, and adding retail operators in MacEwan Student Centre. Preston realistically claims that the remaining goals–finishing MSC redevelopment, improving communication and signage in MSC, and providing more food-court seating–will be completed shortly after his departure, barring active opposition from the organization. New signage and seating are on the way. The only story here is that unlike most elected officials anywhere, Preston’s good-faith effort to do his job has allowed him to mostly succeed.

As a trustee, Preston performed as well as can be expected in a dysfunctional SU executive that showed no overall leadership or direction. The operational direction Preston announced for his commission early in the year appears to be the only item that has limited and guided his successes. Preston admits that his attempts to reform the inefficiency out of SLC failed, as he could not work through some issues that had become needlessly politicized. Look for a return of election bylaws and clubs room-booking policy to the legislative agenda next year, with all the credit going to newly elected sponsors instead of Preston or the bureaucracy that helped draft the measures.

Issues such as space for a proposed women’s centre, corporate sponsorship and university occupancy fees have not been conclusively resolved, and despite a more moderate legislative agenda since December, Preston’s attempts at temperate compromise with other legislators have been rebuked. Three years of political baggage worked against him, although he did pass a contingency resolution for the MSA for Ramadan 2004. However, two of Preston’s major legislative items–a new clubs procedure to address space-booking concerns and repaired election bylaws–were defeated by the Students’ Legislative Council, largely for political reasons.

A part of this failure must also be attributed to the breakdown of communication in December among the executive. Since then, according to Preston, the executive has ceased being a working unit, which stymied his attempts at more permanently resolving the MSA prayer space issue. Similarly, Preston could not secure his commissioners’ support on repeated occasions at SLC, although he successfully delegated tasks to them and used them as advisors outside SLC meetings.

Under his watch, Preston anticipates that the SU will generate a surplus several times the budgeted amount this year due to cost savings from consolidating suppliers and rearranging staff positions. Those who portend of a "mass exodus" of SU staff due to mistreatment by Preston are clearly unaware of his ongoing efforts with the new SU General Manager to re-align the organization to match its $10 million size, nor of the changes in staff that have already occurred.

Preston’s progressive policies will leave a positive and memorable legacy.

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