Flames of the Torch: Transparency in SGI, part III

Three weeks after the Student Government, Inc. budget for the 2012/13 school year was voted on and approved in a public floor meeting, the Torch is still waiting to see it.

We originally took the e-board at its word when President Christian Williams promised transparency. However, it appears as if the status quo of keeping the inner workings of its operations private is really what they want, or perhaps are too disorganized to decide how to handle this request. Which is worse, we don’t know.

But SGI’s opacity goes beyond its refusal to detail the contents of its budget — this saga has exposed the organization for what it really is and considers itself — a corporation first, not a democratically elected government.

If you Google “federal budget,” you can quickly access the United States outlays in raw form on a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet — detailing everything from defense spending to Senate barber shop expenses. If you try to take a photo of the SGI budget, a St. John’s administrator asks to see your phone, as SGI advisor Danny Trujillo did to one of our editors.

SGI doesn’t operate like the U.S. government because they don’t consider themselves to be a government at all. In our (at times contentious) dealings with SGI, e-board members have made it perfectly clear that they consider themselves to be running a corporation. In other words, the Inc. in Student Government, Inc. is the most important word (or abbreviation).

At one point, Treasurer Elaine Vazquez asked if we knew how a business works. Our answer is twofold. First, yes, we do (the Torch handles all its own finances like SGI, and unlike SGI, raises all its own money from advertisers, not unwitting St. John’s students). Secondly, we didn’t realize that SGI conducted itself like a business. We had (in hindsight, foolishly) assumed that it operated like a government, which, in America at least, includes transparent and unedited budget releases in addition to the “financial reports,” that are spun to make the organization look good. SGI, unsurprisingly, plans to only do the latter, and seems to think they’re doing us a favor by doing that.

What students should be most upset about, however, has been how much better and smarter the e-board thinks they are than the rest of us. Implicit in all of its rationalizing the delay of the publication of its finances is the idea that if the average student were to look at the budget without the patient explanation from its elected leaders, he or she would unable to understand the contents. Have some more respect for your fellow students. After all, don’t we all attend the same University? We’re your peers, and SGI should start treating us that way.

The shining star of this e-board has been Senior Senator Nicole Mastrangelo. She has been every bit of the professional representative. She has not shied away from speaking to the Torch and has been very clear in her answers. We have no doubt that if the rest of the board conducted themselves as she has, this would have ceased to be an issue weeks ago.

We’d like to remind the members of SGI’s e-board that they are spending our money. Our money paid the $12,000 to house Williams and Vazquez over the summer, and our money pays for the t-shirts that Vice President Oscar Diaz distributes to his flag football team.

It’s our money. Show us how you’re spending it — without spin. Let us come to our own conclusions about the job you’re doing

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