If misuse of Student Government Association (SGA) funding were to occur at The University of Southern Mississippi, the current SGA treasurer and her successors would not be aware, due to the treasurers’ inability to uphold their constitutional duties of the position.
SGA was funded over $180,000 during the 2013-2014 year through the university. This total includes fringe benefits, travel and subsistence, contractual services and commodities, the university’s public budget book states. More than $83,000 are designated to contractual services.
While the overall budget is viewable, details of spending, expense-by-expense, beyond these categories by SGA officials are not easily accessible by the student body, the university public and the SGA treasurer, Crystal Johnson.
According to Wynde Fitts, associate dean of students and SGA adviser, the expenditures process is complex.
“With the budget, there is so much that is automated through university processes, and it’s really difficult for a student, for a person in the treasurer position, to complete all of those things,” Fitts said. “I know that (Johnson) probably had some frustrations because when the treasurer position was created, not everything was automated like it is now.”
Johnson has been the SGA treasurer for a year now and said she has not completed her financial duties, not because she did not want to, but because she could not.
“I have been asking the Dean of Students office for financial transactions, but I haven’t received anything,” Johnson said. “The system they use for transactions? I don’t even have the password to (it).”
When questioned about restraints placed by the Dean of Students office on the SGA treasurer, Fitts said the restraint may be the budget itself, saying that technology could have played a part.
“Technology has made it so cumbersome for her or any treasurer to keep up with the expenses, even though they’re monitored by the Dean of Students office,” Fitts said. “The Dean of Students office monitors the SGA budget just like they would any budget that they supervise.”
Johnson questioned the significance of the position.
“I wouldn’t say the treasurer position is useless, but if the treasurer isn’t given the chance to do what they’re supposed to do, why have the position?” Johnson argued.
“I think the position was set up when processes in the institution were different,” said Fitts, who does not view the position as useless.
According to the SGA constitution, duties of the SGA treasurer include: keeping an itemized account of all receipts and expenditures, making available to the SGA president and SGA Senate a monthly financial statement, to make available all financial records of SGA and to present a budget report at the first and last Senate meeting of the fall semester, at the first meeting of the spring semester and at the meeting immediately preceding the inauguration of new executive officers.
Johnson said she has to report to the Dean of Students office, which houses all the information.
“The treasurer doesn’t have the power. (The budget) is untouchable,” she said. “You have to wait on the administration in the Dean of Students office before you can see transactions or see where the budget is.”
According to the SGA constitution’s first article, in section four: “The Student Government Association advisor shall provide guidance and advisory opinions on financial matters, organizational operations and compliance with university student rules. This guidance is to be taken into consideration by all members when making decisions with reference to the SGA.”
More than guidance and opinions on financial matters have been put into practice, according to statements by Johnson, who also said she was not included in some major financial decisions.
According to Fitts, no barriers were crossed.
“At the end of the day, trying to make sure the organization is fiscally (responsible) is a part of the job of the adviser because they are spending students’ money,” she said. “You have to make sure they are spending wisely.”
In regards to the recent trip to the Conference on Student Government Associations (COSGA), attended by certain members of the student body and SGA, Johnson, who did not attend, said she saw no transactions from the trip.
“I didn’t know (SGA was)going to COSGA until I saw pictures of them on Instagram,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s just how (Fitts) or (Chilcutt) wanted to set it up.”
According to Johnson, the treasurer before her, Devontae Washington, ran into similar problems when trying to bring finances to the public eye.
“The treasurer before me tried to formulate a budget,” she said. “We had a lot of trouble in the past years.”
Johnson questioned if trust was once lost in handling the money. “Maybe the Dean of Students office felt like it was safer,” she said. “It could have once been misused.”
Fitts said Johnson brings up a good point and said she hopes to make a more seamless experience for the next treasurer.
Johnson, who also leads the SGA Philanthropy Commission, offered a final statement.
“At this point, I don’t know how much we have spent this year in any area, except Philanthropy Commission,” Johnson said.
The Philanthropy Commission received a $1,000 budget for the 2013-2014 year, down from the $5,000 it received the previous year, according to Johnson.
The 2011 SGA President, Eric Brown, played a key role in creating the Philanthropy Commission during his presidency. On the subject of problem-solving issues within SGA, Brown spoke of accountability.
“The only way to solve the perennial problems between the SGA and the student body is for the entire student body to hold the SGA, and more importantly, the USM administrators, faculty and staff who oversee the SGA, accountable for every action,” he said.
Brown, who campaigned on the platform of establishing excellence on campus, said he wanted to make SGA everything it was supposed and expected to be.
“You could say that SGA was a student-service machine that was out of order, and my goal was to work with my colleagues to fix the machine so that future officers could simply do what the student body was asking,” Brown said. “Said plainly, I tried to eliminate any and every excuse that SGA could make for not delivering on its promise to the student body.”
Dean of Students Eddie Holloway said in a statement that he was unaware of any difficulties posed to the SGA treasurers, past and present. He stressed that SGA and his office seek complete transparency.