A general feeling of concern and distrust lingered amongst SSMU councillors after the interpretation of a General Assembly (GA) resolution authored by SSMU VP Finance and Operations Nick Drew ignited concern early this week. The controversy around the “Resolution Regarding the Society’s Investments” was sparked after poor wording caused some councillors to misinterpret the resolution as a motion to allow the VP finance and operations to circumvent SSMU regulatory bodies and invest funds unilaterally.
In actuality the resolution, moves to amend SSMU’s Lettre de patente – the by-laws recognized by the provincial government – to include a clause stating that SSMU invests in corporations and the government.
“It just outlines our activities, and this is one of them – that we own shares, that we can own shares – and this is something that our lawyer told us to do,” said Drew.
“It doesn’t really change anything with our internal by-laws. Everything remains the same. It’s just to legitimize the investment portfolio,” he added.
SSMU councillor Maggie Knight attributed the misinterpretation to a phrase in the resolution describing how the VP Finance and Operations would manage the SSMU investment portfolio “in consultation with the Comptroller and the Corporation’s investment advisers.”
The resolution makes no explicit mention of the Financial Ethics Review Committee (FERC) – the only committee that currently exists to review SSMU investments.
From Knight’s perspective, the recent creation of a SSMU Board of Directors – which can technically override any decision SSMU Council makes – in addition to the censureship of SSMU President Zach Newburgh last week, contributed to the misunderstanding and the atmosphere of mistrust.
“I first read the resolutions on Friday, so I’d been up all night at Council, and obviously there had been some trauma associated with issues of lack of trust and so on and so forth,” she said. “So in that context this motion does look like trying to get rid of oversight, and trying to make it possible for the VP finance – in concert with whatever other executives he or she wants – to just make investments wherever they decide, without any oversight.”
Drew said he plans to amend the resolution at the GA today to change the resolution’s wording to include FERC, and any other committees that may be formed in the future, as bodies the VP finance and operations consults with regards to the management of SSMU’s investment portfolio.
“It just kind of adds clarity to [the by-laws]. I don’t want people confused that this is some kind of sketchy maneuver,” said Drew. “In no way is it intended to be.”
Drew said SSMU’s lawyer informed him of the need to add the clause in their by-laws three weeks ago, and therefore Council did not have a chance to look at the resolution closely before today’s GA.
Knight cited the lack of consultation and notice as another cause of overreaction.
“I don’t know the ‘why,’ so when you don’t know the intentions, and there’s this sort of general – paranoia is too strong a word – but a general defensiveness and lack of trust, then of course people are more alarmed by things,” she said.
Knight cited the need for improved communications be-tween Council and students as a way to avoid future misunderstandings of motions and SSMU legislation. “We need to be doing consultation. We need to be warning people of what’s happening so that people don’t freak out at things if the wording is alarming to them,” she continued.