ASOC Senate impeaches student body president, VPs of finance and external affairs resign

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Update: This article was revised April 16 at 2:17am to include the ASOC Senate statement emailed to the Occidental Community that morning.

The Associated Students of Occidental College (ASOC) Senate impeached President Chris Weeks (junior) in a 10-2 vote Monday night, while Vice President of Finance Will Huang (junior) and Vice President of External Affairs Jemma Parsons (senior) stepped down from their respective positions.

Monday’s weekly Senate meeting began as usual, according to Siri Guntupalli (junior) and Malena Ernani (sophomore), who were present at the open meeting as observers. At approximately 11:30 p.m., however, Chief of Staff Jarron Williams (first-year) was called to give his report, at which point he informed Weeks that multiple senators had expressed a desire to impeach him. Weeks maintained he was unaware of this sentiment before Monday’s meeting.

“I had no idea going into this meeting tonight that this would be happening,” Weeks told The Weekly on Monday night. “At this point I’m still unsure of the justification for my impeachment.”

According to the Senate public statement emailed to the Occidental community Wednesday morning, Weeks was aware of Senate’s dissatisfaction with his leadership since early fall semester. Senate members state that they held bi-weekly, one-on-one meetings with Williams to express their feelings about Senate operations, and several members indicated their displeasure with Week’s presidency during these meetings. Williams claims he even communicated Senate’s desire to impeach Weeks during a March 31 one-on-one meeting with the former president.

The statement cited four reasons for Weeks’s impeachment: first, violation of duties as president; second, violation of Senate community standards; third, violation of the president’s power to appoint special committees; and fourth, violation of the president’s power to appoint an election chair.

Senate claims that Weeks informed Honor Board of an alternative funding source for the Diversity and Equity Board (DEB) without consulting the result of Senate, thus violating his duties as president. Senate also claims that Weeks then denied speaking to Honor Board about the alternative until the Feb. 23 Senate meeting. Due to this incident, and several other alleged infractions, Senate cited a lack of transparency and communication as a second justification for impeachment.

Senate further claims that Weeks violated Senate bylaws on several occasions. In one incident, Weeks allegedly appointed Vice President of Internal Affairs Rachel Young (junior) as the head of a special committee to appoint a vice president of financial affairs in the fall. The Senate bylaws state that Senate must be consulted before such an action is taken. In addition, Weeks allegedly appointed Erin Wegner (junior) as an elections chair for the spring Senate elections without approval from Senate, also an infraction of the bylaws.

After introducing the topic of impeachment at the April 13 Senate meeting, Williams offered Weeks the opportunity to step down or speak in his own defense, both of which he declined. Weeks requested a week to gather his thoughts on the matter, but the senators maintained that the vote would happen that night. Minutes later, a motion was put on the table to impeach Weeks, which passed 10-2.

The two vetoes of Week’s impeachment belonged to Parsons and Huang. After Weeks left the room, Huang put a motion on the table to end the meeting, but was stopped by Williams, who notified Huang that several senators sought his impeachment as well. Huang chose to resign rather than continue with the impeachment process, and Parsons resigned immediately thereafter.

“I was really shocked by what happened tonight,” Parsons said. “Personally, it felt like there had been a lot of scheming going on behind the scenes. [Huang] and I were not included in the conversation at all.”

Once Huang, Parsons and Weeks had left the room, the remaining senators began the process of filling their positions. According to the ASOC Constitution, vacant seats can be filled by Senate appointment if fewer than ten weeks remain in the term. Following these guidelines, the senators elected Grace Hancock (junior) as interim student body president, Keven Duran (senior) as interim vice president of finance and Savanah D’Orazio (first-year) as interim vice president of external affairs.

Less than 24 hours after his impeachment, Weeks filed a formal complaint with Honor Board, alleging that the impeachment process was unconstitutional. According to Week’s complaint, the senators justified his impeachment using outdated sections of their bylaws. The current Senate bylaws allow for removal of the president due to academic or disciplinary probation, or for other instances laid out in the Senate house rules.

As Weeks is not on disciplinary or academic probation, his impeachment must be justified by criteria outlined in the house rules. However, Weeks maintains that the mention of house rules is a holdover from a previous versions of the bylaws—the current ASOC Constitution makes no mention of house rules, and Weeks said that Senate has not operated under such rules for years. Thus, Weeks believes the impeachment process was unconstitutional.

Senate holds, however, that a set of “community standards” took the place of the house rules this year. Minutes from a Sept. 22 Senate meeting show that discussion on the house rules indeed turned to a wider discussion on Senate interactions, which would later be termed “community standards.” In impeaching Weeks, the Senators cited his violation of the standard of transparency, on which they all agreed, as sufficient justification.

Honor Board met Tuesday to review Week’s complaint and ruled that a formal hearing was necessary. They set a hearing for April 24 and sent an email to Senate adviser Tamara Himmelstein, directing her to “suspend any further action within ASOC Senate until the ASOC infraction hearing has been resolved.” Honor Board Chair Ernani explained that if the new Senate leadership was found to be unconstitutionally appointed, any business they conducted between now and the hearing date would be counted as a further infraction. Himmelstein advised Senate to postpone their weekly meetings until after the hearing, but senators stated that they will continue to conduct business as usual, from holding regular meetings to hearing funding requests from student organizations.

“It’s not fair for one person to hold the entire Occidental community hostage from being able to access the money we manage—that they paid for—to be able to put on events for the entire community,” Duran said. “It wouldn’t be fair for one student to stop all that from happening. And that one student I’m talking about is Chris Weeks.”

The senators maintained that the decision to impeach Weeks was based on procedure, not personality.

“This is about setting a precedent for the future,” Senior Class Senator Kerry Sakimoto said. “If we allowed former President Chris Weeks to continually violate the constitution, or to misinterpret it, or to use the constitution in a way that wasn’t intended … These are all things that we need to make sure are stopped before next year. Because what’s the point in having a constitution if you’re not going to follow it?”