September 21, 2020

BY JOSH BURY

Conestoga Students Inc. has never held a byelection for an empty board of directors position and will not do so for the seat vacated by former board chair Paul Oniga. The position will remain vacant for the rest of this academic year.

The announcement came via CSI’s website after a set of motions that were brought forward at the Jan. 8 board meeting were voted down by the board.

But Zoey Ross, a second-year arts and science student who brought the issue to the board, isn’t happy with the result.

“When I look back to the recent byelection situation with the board of directors, I appreciate their enthusiasm to have a student come and speak, but this willingness is not enough. At the time of the vacancy there were six months remaining in the term. There is no reason that spot couldn’t be filled,” Ross said.

Ross proposed to the board that the eighth board of director spot be filled by holding a byelection.

Ross made it clear at the time the proposal was brought forward that he intended to run for the position if such a byelection were to happen. The board then asked him how he would handle the current situation and he declined to comment, citing the fact that he intended to run for the position.

Talk on the issue ensued, with Ross being asked to leave the room to facilitate frank discussion.

Poor timing was cited as one of the major reasons against holding a byelection. With the presidential election season about to kick off, the board worried that a byelection for a board seat could confuse the voting public.

The concept of holding a byelection was quashed without the need for a vote, as the board came to the consensus that there was no way to hold one quickly enough to avoid possible conflict with the presidential election season.

The board then began looking at an alternative way to fill the position: interviewing candidates and then choosing a replacement.

This method had been used previously: most notably in early 2013 when only five candidates came forward to represent the board. The remaining directors were recruited.

CSI’s bylaws allow for the hiring of a replacement and do not specify that an election must be held or the vacancy filled. They state that as long as a majority of the total number of directors remains, the vacancy “may be filled by the directors from among the qualified members of (CSI).”

The only time a vacancy must be filled is if the board is no longer made up of the majority of total positions, called a quorum.

Several directors agreed in principle that the vacancy should be filled, if possible. But the logistics of inviting applicants and then completing interviews before Jan. 10, when the packages for presidential candidacy were to be distributed, were cited as overwhelming.

In short, CSI said, they would have to advertise the vacancy on the 9th and conduct interviews on the 10th.

CSI president Jason Wright emphasized that if the board decided on conducting interviews, the directors would all have to be available and meet their commitments to the process.

“Any ball dropping on this and it’s done,” Wright said.

The board also questioned whether or not there was enough time left in the year to adequately train a replacement.

After a 10-minute recess, the board came back and, after a short discussion, decided to hold an in-camera session – meaning that members of the public, including Spoke, were asked to leave. The board’s chair, Cameron Jones, explained that the current discussion could be likened to a personnel issue and that the in-camera session would proceed as a result.

Upon being asked to rejoin the meeting, a motion was put to a vote: whether or not to hire Zoey Ross as the eighth board member without recruiting elsewhere. Ross entered as requested at first, but then was asked to leave before a vote was held.

The motion was defeated, but there was some confusion on whether or not this meant that the vacancy would remain unfilled. Vice-chair Hayley Press pointed out that the motion was whether or not to hire Ross and had no bearing on whether or not they would try to fill the vacancy another way.

Eventually a second motion was put forward, which proposed opening recruitment immediately as previously outlined.

“I would like to, but we’re under time constraints,” said director Jaclyn Wingfield of the motion.

The motion was defeated with chair Cameron Jones in favour and Adam Rochon, Sarah Bryant, Hayley Press and Jaclyn and Danielle Wingfield opposed.

Most board members who opposed this second motion appeared to do so due to the logistical difficulty of ensuring a swift and fair interview process. Some also expressed concerns about whether a successful candidate could be trained with so little time remaining in the academic year.

As Ross was asked to re-enter the room and the decision was explained, the board encouraged Ross to continue to bring matters of interest before the board and remain a politically active student.

In an email to Spoke, Wright said he appreciated Ross’s enthusiasm and encouraged change-minded students to run in the upcoming elections for the board of directors.

“I fully support the decision of the board of directors, though we wish we could have filled that position with Zoey or another student. We just felt that at this present time it wasn’t going to be beneficial to the student filling that eighth position on the board of directors. We do want to see those who are interested in making a change to come out and try and gain a position on the board when elections happen next month.”

For Ross, who now plans to run for president of CSI, the answer wasn’t satisfactory.

“The justification provided just put salt in the wound,” Ross said.

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