CSU Alters Financial Policies in Wake of Newtown Party
‘Terrifyingly Insufficient’ Rules Given First Major Overhaul
Roughly five months after last year’s executive was formally reprimanded and asked to pay back the Concordia Student Union for a $9,200 end-of-year party using student funds, policy changes are being made at the CSU to prevent future excesses.
“This is a great start, but far from the end. There’s a lot left to do, but our policy and financial processes have made huge strides [this year] in terms of making things more transparent,” said CSU VP Finance Scott Carr, who consulted on the original report authored by councillor Chuck Wilson recommending the changes to council.
A May 29 party at Newtown bar on Crescent St., which was organized in part with the Concordia International Students Association and attended by an estimated 40 people, has received plenty of criticism since last summer from multiple former and current CSU councillors, who said in September that the party amounted to frivolous spending of students’ money.
Renting out Newtown bar and the bill for food and drinks cost $8,062, according to a CSU requisition document from May 30, 2013. A second requisition signed by Alexis Suzuki, the former CSU VP Student Life, also included an extra $1,143 in expenses, including $300 solely for shisha tobacco and its delivery.
The finalized student life budget line for last year was $6,560.33 over its allocated budget, according to Carr.
Wilson told The Link Monday his report was ready for earlier this month, but the months it took to prepare the recommended changes were necessary to ensure any safeguards put in place were thorough and effective.
“It really needed to be in-depth, because I could see years down the road [new CSU members] having no idea why a bunch of financial policies were changed or put in place and there needs to be that explanation,” he said.
In his report, Wilson made no secret of his belief that the union’s financial policy was in desperate need of an overhaul.
“In case you missed the undercurrent of this entire report, let it be stated here unequivocally: the CSU’s financial policies and procedures are terrifyingly insufficient,” he said in closing.
But particular policy changes were made only to discretionary and non-discretionary spending, the specific areas of focus in Wilson’s report. All recommended changes were adopted by the CSU last Wednesday at a special council meeting.
However, the report also classified the CSU’s financial dealings under seven categories: discretionary and non-discretionary, along with orientation-related budget lines, asset purchases, investments, CSU-operated fee levies and employee wages and benefits.
According to Wilson, other financial categories will be addressed in a subsequent report.
While Wilson admitted in the report most of the conversation around the Newtown incident focused on avoiding a similar situation in the future, the resulting recommendations had to be larger in scope.
“Any recommendations we make must be considerably more general and nuanced if we are to avoid similar outcomes instead of simply preventing carbon copy instances,” the report stated. Wilson offered 17 recommendations in total, all of which were adopted by council.
All discretionary spending—which would include CSU events, speaker series and student life initiatives similar to the Newtown party—would require at bare minimum signed approval of the executive or committee deemed to be in charge of the specific budget line by council at the beginning of their mandate.
Committees would also have to include detailed minutes where they outline the events they are holding.
“The only documents you have [access to] right now are requisitions. Now, there will have to be minutes to say this was approved,” said Wilson. “It will be very clear where things started and ended.”
According to current members of council, members of last year’s event committee were unaware they had approved the funding of a party at Newtown, despite Suzuki refuting those claims to council. Suzuki was unavailable for comment by press time.
Any discretionary spending under $1,000 would only require the approval of the applicable executive or committee, but above that threshold subsequent approvals would be required.
Spending between $1,000 and $10,000 would require the approval of the CSU Financial Committee, and any amount above $10,000 would have to be approved directly by all of council.
Similarly, non-discretionary spending—outlined in the report as “regular, yearly expenses related to the CSU’s operations”—would require the financial committee’s approval for any amount from $10,000 to $50,000 and council’s for spending over that margin. Amounts under $10,000 would have to be approved by the VP Finance.
These three-tiered threshold levels are similar to the current CSU regulations surrounding the signing off on contacts and cheques.
According to CSU Standing Regulation 103, the two CSU signing officers must sign off on all contracts, cheques or other legal tender on behalf of the CSU and have approval over those under $10,000. FinComm has authorization on spending between $10,000 to $50,000 and council is the only authorizer of contracts above that amount.
Despite the changes to discretionary spending, any contracts or cheques associated with an event or initiative under a discretionary budget line will still have to be approved separately and then signed off by two signing officers.
Signing officers can no longer be a member of the CSU executive and now can only be chosen from council representatives and the CSU president.
“Signing authority can be, and historically has been, concentrated within the executive offices,” outlined Wilson in his report, adding this can be problematic if it hinders transparency and puts too much power solely in the hands of the executive.
Yet despite the changes made by council last week, Wilson says his Newtown report is ultimately just one step toward fixing the union’s financial situation.
“The way I talk about this report,” he said, “is it’s really just the foundation for a bigger report which hopefully would be done by the end of this year […] so there will be this longstanding document that explains why these things were done, not just that they were done.”