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UTGSU council meetings discuss honoraria payments, changes to voting system

Council members support executive back pay if procedure is followed
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The UTGSU held its January council meeting on January 19. SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY
The UTGSU held its January council meeting on January 19. SHANNA HUNTER/THE VARSITY

The University of Toronto Graduate Students’ Union (UTGSU) General Council met on January 19 for a regularly scheduled council meeting, following an additional meeting on January 18 called by 10 UTGSU directors.

The extra January 18 meeting was called to discuss “executive conduct.” A notice to impeach Executive Member-at-Large Ben Hjorth was put forward, although he publicly announced his resignation the next day. Members also discussed whether the UTGSU executive team’s decision to backpay University Governance Commissioner Lwanga Musisi additional honorarium for the finance-related duties he undertook from May 1 to November 15 was in accordance with UTGSU policy. 

The January 19 meeting included discussion on a potential switch from a ranked choice voting system to plurality voting, where people vote for only one candidate, and the appointment of the chief returning officer (CRO) for the UTGSU’s upcoming elections. 

Ruling on committee investigations

Concerns were raised by several members about a motion passed at a UTGSU executive and staff meeting on December 8. The motion, which was moved by Hjorth and seconded by Musisi, dictated that the Equity and Advocacy Committee would not be allowed to proceed with any investigation without the approval of the General Council.

Jacqui Spencer, the chair of the Equity and Advocacy Committee, claimed that the motion was passed in an attempt to “silence” her and prevent her from performing her “board-appointed duty” with the committee. At the January 18 meeting, UTGSU Chair Hamish Russell ruled that the motion was in order, claiming that investigation is not within the committee’s purview. 

Branden Rizzuto, a former UTGSU finance commissioner, challenged the chair’s ruling at the council meeting, arguing that the Executive Committee does not have the authority to decide on or restrict any committee’s jurisdiction. According to him, the motion should have been taken to the General Council rather than decided solely by the executive. 

The General Council voted to overrule Russel’s decision that the Executive Committee could make this decision. 

Executive backpay

Council members also expressed concern regarding a motion to back pay Musisi the full finance commissioner honorarium that was passed by the executives on December 1. Dhanela Sivaparan, Academics and Funding Commissioner: Divisions 1 and 2, abstained. 

Musisi originally agreed to take on 50 per cent of the finance commissioner’s duties for 50 per cent of the honorarium until the finance commissioner role was filled on November 15, when An-Noûra Compaoré began her term. However, on December 1, the UTGSU executive decided to back pay Musisi additional honorarium. 

The UTGSU executive members wrote in an email to The Varsity that they voted to retroactively pay him the full honorarium for the period he worked because he “has taken on an unprecedented amount of unpaid work to complete all finance related duties prior to the election of the Finance Commissioner.”

The UTGSU executive added that the additional honorarium has not been paid so far. 

Some members expressed worry that this motion was passed against UTGSU policy. Executive Director Andre Fast assured the council that this motion was passed in accordance with the policy, which states that the executive can redirect up to 100 per cent of a position’s monthly honorarium to any member of the union.

Rizzuto argued that while the policy gives the executive power to redirect honoraria, the executive cannot back pay honorarium from a previous year to current executives without the General Council’s vote. According to Rizzuto, the motion in question falls under policy O1.11.2, which reads, “General Council shall determine, from time to time, any stipend or honorarium to be paid to any person who merits such a reward for service to the Union on an occasional basis.” 

The UTGSU executive wrote in an email to The Varsity, “A confirmation vote will take place at Council before any payment is issued. If approved by Council, the payment would come from the current fiscal year’s budget.” 

Some members of council voiced concern that the decision to keep this decision from the General Council for so long fits into a pattern of financial transparency issues

Multiple members expressed hope that Musisi could be paid the full finance commissioner honorarium in a procedurally correct way. Member Jacklyn Koyama gave notice of a motion for Musisi to be retroactively paid the honorarium. The General Council will vote on this motion at an upcoming meeting.

January 19 council meeting 

The January 19 council meeting began with executive reports, which were received by the General Council. Several council members expressed discontent that executive reports did not include information about the executive’s decision to retroactively pay Musisi the full finance commissioner honorarium. 

Other reports were given, including a report from a representative from the Canadian Union of Public Employees 3902 with updates on bargaining with the university and a Graduate Education Council report regarding the development of an online platform through Quercus aimed at enhancing graduate student professional development. All reports were received by the General Council. 

The CRO nominating committee recommended that the council appoint Adrian Aziz as CRO for the upcoming elections. General Council passed a motion to accept the CRO nominating committee’s recommendation and appoint Aziz as CRO. 

Council then discussed a proposed election policy amendment to shift the UTGSU’s voting system from a ranked to plurality vote. This would mean that instead of voters ranking all candidates in order of preference, they would vote for a single candidate. 

The proposal was backed by Internal Commissioner Sarah Alam who said that last election saw more than 10 candidates for many of the vacant positions. According to Alam, the ranked voting system proved difficult when so many candidates were involved. 

Rizzuto spoke against this proposal, arguing that ranked voting is more equitable and that plurality voting disadvantages minority voices and encourages harmful practices such as vote splitting. The General Council deferred a vote on the proposed amendment to a later meeting.

Lastly, June Li, Academics and Funding Commissioner: Divisions 3 and 4, updated council on an initiative to increase campus-wide funding in accordance with cost of living increases. The initiative is modelled after harmonized funding packages across the Temerty Faculty of Medicine and focuses on creating a fair basic funding package that applies across departments.