Story by Sarah Grace Taylor Editor-in-Chief, Brinley Hineman News Editor and Andrew Wigdor Assistant News Editor
Update April 24: McDonald did not reject the impeachment charges of Kenneth Anthony; they were dropped by the sponsor under the same constitutional reasoning cited by McDonald.
Student Government Association President-elect Courtney Brandon and Vice President of Campus Relations-elect Timothy Bassett were impeached last Wednesday for alleged campaign violations, but the charges were dismissed by sitting Executive Vice President Connor McDonald less than 24 hours later after consulting with university officials.
In addition, the sitting Vice President of Campus Relations, Kenneth Anthony, was also impeached for failing to perform the duties of his job as outlined by the SGA constitution. The charges against him were also dropped by McDonald.
Four members of SGA’s Internal Affairs Committee confirmed the committee voted 6–1 in favor of impeaching Bassett and Brandon for breaking SGA rules regarding campaign finances and campaigning in the library during the 2017 SGA elections, which ended last week. The committee voted unanimously to impeach Anthony.
The Internal Affairs Committee is made up of students appointed by the SGA president and deals primarily with alleged violations of the organization’s procedures and rules.
According to McDonald, some “gray area” in the SGA constitution and electoral act allowed him to drop the impeachment charges against Brandon and Bassett and made it impossible for the senate to impeach an executive board member such as Anthony.
However, the move by McDonald was seen by numerous senators as a way to save face in the midst of serious allegations.
Kenneth Anthony and the missing electoral commission:
As vice president of campus relations, Anthony was responsible for collecting and filing receipts of candidates’ finances. According to Article VI-Section VII of SGA’s electoral act, candidates cannot exceed $500 of expenses or donations. Every item a candidate uses while campaigning, such as signs or t-shirts, must be reported to the election commission via receipts or in-kind donation estimates within 49 hours of the expenditure. In a slideshow shared with each candidate at the beginning of the campaign, Anthony included the example of donation expense below:
According to Nathan Wech, a member of the Internal Affairs Committee, allegations that Anthony failed to meet his duties arose after the election. Part of Anthony’s job, Wech said, is to serve as election commissioner and to appoint members of the senate to serve with him on the election commission to oversee the election of new SGA officers.
Wech, a senior representing the College of Basic and Applied Sciences and a member of the Internal Affairs Committee, told Sidelines that Anthony failed to carry out his duties in the manner prescribed by SGA election rules.
Article IV-Section 5 of the Electoral Act requires the names of all candidates to be released. 21 days prior to the start of campaigning. That would have been early March, but Anthony did not do so until approximately a week prior to the start of the three-day voting period.
In addition, the Election Commission is supposed to be confirmed at the beginning of the semester, but Wech said the commission for last week’s balloting was not confirmed by the Senate until six hours before voting ended.
Wech suggested that the Election Commission slate offered belatedly by Anthony was hurriedly pushed through the Senate and confirmed due to the time crunch.
However, after the Commission was confirmed, it became known that many of the commissioners appointed had ties to Timothy Bassett, then a candidate for Vice President of Campus Relations.
“(The appointed members) had ties with Timothy Bassett; they were in an organization with him. They also had ties to (Anthony),” Wech said. “There could’ve been some kind of favoritism.”
The Election Commission is responsible for handling aspects of the election, including internal and external complaints.
“If there are any allegations that a candidate is not following the electoral act, they are supposed to be submitted to the Election Commission, but there really wasn’t one to submit them to,” Wech said.
Consequently, complaints would have been given only to Anthony, Wech added.
“The Election Commission was presented way too late.”
However, Wech noted that the Internal Affairs Committee was unaware of any formal complaints filed during the election.
“We don’t know if (Anthony) was keeping up with the complaint sheets or not. We don’t have access to them,” Wech said.
According to Wech, the only people who have access to complaint sheets are the Election Commission and Anthony. He added there is no way for Internal Affairs to verify the existence of any complaint sheets.
Wech said Anthony failed his duty to keep and maintain receipt records turned in by candidates. This information was disclosed to Wech and other members of the Internal Affairs Committee by presidential candidate Peyton Tracy, who lost to Brandon.
Another Senator confirmed the difficulty of reaching Anthony during the election.
“I did reach out to Kenneth Anthony, and I sent him a few emails regarding different things about the election, and I think I only heard back from him once,” said Seth Harrell, a recently elected Senator. “I think that was definitely a concern from people running.”
Harrell turned his receipts into the SGA office, but said he doesn’t know what happened to them after laying them on the front desk.
“The follow-up emails (to Anthony) of where (the receipts) were going or if they got turned in or what I needed to do to make sure (Anthony) knew they were turned in… I didn’t get a return email on that,” Harrell said.
“(The Internal Affairs Committee) had found that (Anthony) had lost several receipts, and it was impossible to get an accurate number of how much was spent for each candidate,” Wech said. “Those receipts are missing — there’s a lot that are missing.”
After Tracy, who had been an SGA senator before he sought the top spot, brought this information to the Internal Affairs Committee, a formal meeting was called to discuss Anthony’s impeachment. Seven of the nine members of Internal Affairs met and voted unanimously to impeach him. Internal Affairs then sent their verdict to Executive Vice President Connor McDonald who acts as the Speaker of the Senate.
Following the vote by the Internal Affairs Committee, the matter would normally go to the full Senate for a vote to affirm or negate the committee’s recommendation.
This information was sent to all SGA members by McDonald late Thursday morning, but another email was sent that afternoon telling members that a scheduled impeachment meeting was cancelled. McDonald explained there is no formal process in the body’s constitution by which to impeach an Executive Board member such as Anthony.
According to a text to the Internal Affairs Committee from McDonald, the decision was reached after discussing the impeachment with Debra Sells, the university’s vice president of student affairs, and Danny Kelley, the assistant vice president of student affairs, who acts as the faculty adviser to SGA.
“According to the Constitution, when looking at the impeachment procedures, it doesn’t say anything about Executive Board members, it talks about senators only,” Wech said. “So legislatively, there is no way to impeach an Executive Board member.”
“While our hands are tied and there’s nothing we can really do at this point… The student body should still know that members of their Executive Board did things that were not honest, were unethical and they won because of it,” Wech said.
However, Bassett and Brandon, both sitting senators before the recent election, are not protected by the loophole in the Constitution.
Someone identifying himself as Anthony called an author of this story Sunday morning telling them not to run this “unfactual story.” The reporter asked Anthony for comment at which point he hung up. Sidelines then texted Anthony requesting comment but received no response.
The alleged campaign violations of Brandon and Bassett:
In the days following the election, allegations that Brandon and Bassett broke campaign rules by campaigning in the library, soliciting votes in classes by letting fellow students use the candidates’ digital devices to cast their ballots and failing to provide campaign expense receipts surfaced with evidence from members of SGA and the student body alike.
According to the Internal Affairs Committee, the candidates used a golf cart from MTSU athletics to ride around campus on April 11, asking students to vote for them and then failed to turn in receipts before the 49 hour mark.
“We know that (Brandon) works with the sports department and (was given the golf cart) to use for the day,” said committee member Jordan Malpass. “But, though they both used it to display their signs and to get votes, they never reported it as a donation.”
According to Malpass, though there was debate about the role of transportation as a campaign expense, the committee ultimately decided the golf cart should have been reported.
While on the golf cart and in classes, the candidates also allegedly violated Article VII-Section 2 by having students vote on the candidate’s personal digital devices.
Bassett and Brandon were seen handing their cellphones to students on campus and having them vote in front of the candidates on multiple occasions, including an instance in which a student reported Bassett passing his phone around a classroom with a note asking students to follow the provided link and vote for him.
“The act specifically says laptop and desktop computers, but we interpret it to mean any personal computer,” Malpass said. “And a smartphone is really just a computer.”
According to accounts brought to SGA by three unaffiliated students, Brandon and Bassett were both seen campaigning in the library, which some members of SGA found to be a violation of Article VII-Section 1 of the electoral act which prohibits campaigning in a campus computer lab.
While McDonald claims the library does not count as a computer lab, Malpass says it’s “clearly” a computer lab because it is listed on the university’s list of open computer labs.
“Regardless,” Malpass said. “Tim said himself that campaigning in the library is unethical.”
At a candidates’ debate on April 5, Bassett told the audience that he had intervened in another election when a candidate campaigned in the library.
Bassett said he told a friend who ran for SGA in 2016 that it was “unacceptable” to campaign in the library because it violated the electoral act and that the friend needed to remove him/herself from the ballot.
Sidelines began reaching out to Bassett and Brandon Thursday night via Facebook, again on Friday, email on Sunday morning and (for Brandon as we were unable to find Bassett’s phone number) texts and phone calls but received no response as of time of publishing.
Connor McDonald and the “gray area” of SGA legislation:
Executive Vice President and Speaker of the Senate Connor McDonald, who was present but did not vote in the meeting where the impeachment votes took place, acknowledged in a text to SGA members. that he communicated with University officials Sells and Kelley about the impeachment on April 20.
McDonald’s text states he, Sells and Kelley collectively decided to reject the Internal Affairs vote and drop impeachment proceedings against Brandon, Bassett and Anthony.
The main reason provided by McDonald’s text as to why impeachment was overturned for Brandon and Bassett was the fact that it would be “setting a precedent” to allow the Internal Affairs Committee to act as the de facto Election Commission for the campaign. The Election Commission, under the SGA Electoral Act, is required to investigate any complaint made in regards to electoral misconduct. However, the Election Commission was not confirmed until the day that voting closed.
Anthony, as mentioned before, was accused of multiple charges that would generally be deemed as grounds for impeachment. Article IX of the SGA constitution details the grounds and the process for the removal of an SGA member. However, the current version of the constitution never directly states that an SGA executive board member can be impeached. It simply discusses the process for the removal of elected SGA senators.
“The reason the articles of impeachment did not go forward on Kenneth Anthony is because about a year and a half ago when a senator amended the procedure for removing an individual, the impeachment procedure basically, they forget to put in the provisions that say that this can apply to an executive board member. So, there is no, at this point, constitutional way to remove an executive board member from the senate. They would have to resign on their own,” McDonald said.
McDonald stated that this oversight was the result of “an extreme lack of the senate process last year of doing their due diligence on an amendment,” but the executive board did not take steps to punish Anthony after the charges were made.
“The provisions that were overlooked absolutely need to be put back into the constitution as soon as possible,” McDonald said.
Kelley sent Sidelines the following statement regarding his decision:
“I advised the Committee and Connor McDonald, Executive Vice President/Speaker of the Senate that I did not believe this committee had jurisdiction to take such action The Electoral Act governs all campaigns and elections sponsored by the Student Government Association. The EA requires that any alleged campaign violations be filed with the Election Commission within 48 hours of the alleged violation. No violations were ever filed against candidates Brandon and Basset. If charges were filed, the EC would have conducted a hearing.”
While the Electoral Act does state that a two-day window is allowed for any reporting of an alleged violation, there was no election commission during the majority of the election, making this provision unclear.
A former senator of SGA took photos of Brandon and Bassett campaigning in the library and on the golf cart on April 11 but did not report the complaints until after the two day period.
McDonald stated that no complaints were filed with the office of the election commissioner during the allotted time. The Vice President of Campus Relations serves as election commissioner regardless of a commission being in place, according to McDonald.
However, the Electoral Act also states that the Election Commissioner “shall, at the beginning of the term in which he/she is elected, appoint four University students, with Senate approval, to serve one year terms as members of the Election Commission.”
In regards to Bassett and Brandon campaigning in the library, McDonald said it is “not directly” considered a computer lab.
“In the past, we have always considered the entire library a computer lab because of how many computers there are in there… That’s like a gray area. It’s not a clear violation,” McDonald said.
McDonald added that failure to document the golf cart expenses has not come up in previous SGA elections, and is, therefore, not a clear violation.
“If somebody was using a bike to ride around campus and campaign, would they have to turn in a receipt for renting a bike?…That’s also definitely a gray area,” McDonald said.
According to Malpass, while he respects the members of the executive board, he believes they chose to “sit on their hands” and let the three get away with unethical behavior which leads to the “deconstruction” of student government
“That’s what’s happening right now,” Malpass said. “Courtney Brandon and Timothy Bassett should not be allowed to serve on the executive board because they broke the rules more than once. They did it knowingly and they got away with it because the current executive board officers don’t want to do anything about it.”
While two senators are reportedly drafting a new revision to the constitution for the fall to avoid future incidents and Malpass is calling for Bassett and Brandon to resign, Anthony will leave SGA without disciplinary action and both Bassett and Brandon are set to be sworn into their positions Monday night at the annual SGA banquet.