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James Walker speaks at Wednesday nights ASUNM meet in the SUB. Walker was a former senator for ASUNM and during the meeting accused its current staff of mishandling financial business. 

James Walker speaks at Wednesday nights ASUNM meet in the SUB. Walker was a former senator for ASUNM and during the meeting accused its current staff of mishandling financial business. 

Ex-senator accuses ASUNM Finance Committee of mishandling business

Senators had barely finished getting settled into their seats at the start of the penultimate Associated Students of UNM senate meeting last Wednesday when they were greeted by accusations of mishandling financial business to the detriment of a student organization.

James Walker, an ex-ASUNM senator and current Army ROTC cadet captain, spoke on behalf of an appropriation presented to the Finance Committee that was reduced for what he called “ridiculous” reasons.

“This whole semester that I’ve been in senate … we always went by the book. So when I hear that my appropriation for our group that I feel so strongly about is deducted by $400 because someone felt that’s too much money is absolutely a ridiculous misuse of power, and also a misrepresentation of your students,” Walker said during the meeting’s portion devoted to comments from the gallery.

The appropriation in question would have given a requested amount of $1,471.25 to the Army ROTC to pay for updated CPR/First Aid training and certification of 25 cadets.

However, the finance committee, which oversees all financial business including appropriations before they go on to the Senate, reduced the amount by $400 -- an action that Finance Committee Chair Sen. Ashley Hawney said has some precedent.

She said that in the past the committee has given reduced amounts to student organizations for events or workshops that exclusively benefit a particular number of students, sometimes deducting as much as half the appropriation request.

“ASUNM fees are supposed to be used for events that everybody can attend,” Hawney said.

Finance Committee Vice Chair Justin Cooper, who led the committee meeting that handled the appropriation in Hawney’s absence, said that was the reasoning behind the committee’s move to reduce the funds requested.

“The committee found it suitable to help assist these 25 people with the certification by funding part of the cost and having the students fund the other part, seeing that it was a personal certification,” Cooper said.

The motion to amend and reduce the requested amount to $1,005 passed unanimously, Cooper said.

In addition to the allegations of "misuse of power" by the committee, Walker also said that he has since found out about “pre-finance” meetings, where the committee would meet before the official meeting began in order to, allegedly, discuss and make decisions about financial business.

“To me, as a student on the outside, that looks shady,” he said, “because now we have senators who are making decisions without an open forum, without students there … the transparency is not there. It’s not by the book … (and) it's unfair to our organization.”

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Hawney doesn’t deny that she holds such meetings; in fact, she said they have been going on for at least three years, dating back to other finance chairs that preceded her. She said she holds them in the ASUNM office.

Hawney did, however, deny Walker’s assumptions about the purpose of the meetings, saying that they are purely for going over logistics with her relatively inexperienced committee so they have the information they need to make their own justified decisions during the official committee meeting.

“We would reference our history of how we’ve funded things ... but that doesn’t (lead to) a vote, and that doesn’t (express) our sentiment,” Hawney said. "It’s just me trying to give the committee the most information so they can make the most knowledgeable decisions."

Hawney said anybody is allowed to attend the meeting, and ASUNM President Pro Tempore Bisaan Hanouneh has often attended.

“They have never been exclusive -- just no one has really showed (any) interested or attended one,” Hawney said. "No minutes or agenda is posted since no business is conducted or voted on."

Though Hawney said the meetings are open to everyone, they do not appear as official meetings on the ASUNM website, nor is their time or location posted.

She said Walker was well aware of pre-finance meetings from his time as senator – he resigned in early October, and served a full term prior to being elected again in the spring.

But Walker later said he had no idea such conferences were taking place, questioning the legitimacy of and actions taken at said meetings.

“(The) Finance Committee meets before their open meeting times to make decisions about appropriations without the opportunity for it to be on the record or to have student group input,” he said. “There’s no accountability on their part, and it’s inappropriate they bypass ASUNM’s open meeting policy.”

In addressing the Senate, Walker said that by cutting the requested funds, ASUNM was indirectly impacting future life-or-death situations that the Army ROTC cadets may find themselves in.

“You’re robbing students of valuable, life-saving certifications,” he said. "You are robbing future army officers of the ability to save someone’s life with CPR and First Aid training."

Walker added that the Army ROTC is projected to lose $5,000 next year as part of widespread budget cuts in the organization’s national overhead, the U.S. Army Cadet Command.

His comments struck a chord with the senators. When the appropriation was presented during the business portion of Wednesday’s Senate meeting, Sen. Delia Brennan proposed an amendment to reinstate the appropriation’s originally requested amount.

“Based on their presence here earlier today, and the fact that it’s not in violation of standing rules, I think we should fund them fully,” Brennan said.

The final appropriation, which passed the Senate with an 18-0-1 vote, was for $1,382, the amount slightly adjusted for tax exclusion.

Cooper later said that had an Army ROTC representative raised concerns to the committee as Walker had done to the Senate, the committee would most likely have funded the organization fully.

Hawney said she wasn’t surprised the funding was fulfilled, but for different reasons than those cited by Cooper.

“A lot of the other senators don’t really understand the exact reasoning behind finance … so that’s where I feel it’s really uneducated,” she said. “You have to be very fiscally responsible, and I don’t think people see that as they should.”

At the end of the meeting ASUNM Vice President Alex Cervantes said that pre-finance meetings will, from now on, be held in the same location that the Finance Committee meets, and that the meeting schedule would be amended to reflect the change. As of Monday, the schedule of meetings on the ASUNM website had yet to reflect the change.

David Lynch is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

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