SUA Election Commissioners Terminated in Closed-Session Meeting

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Updated 5/14 10:20 a.m. with newly elected SUA Election Commissioner Grace Shefcik’s interview and new information that Aron Garst and Tamisha Davis have received reasons regarding their termination from SUA Chair Justin Lardinois on behalf of the SUA voting members.

During a closed-session portion of an Student Union Assembly (SUA) meeting on Tuesday, the body voted to terminate the SUA Elections Commissioner, Aron Garst, and the Associate Elections Commissioner, Tamisha Davis. The decision came on the first day of voting for SUA’s spring elections.

Garst and Davis received brief emails from SUA Chair Justin Lardinois, who conveyed that their performance was not satisfactory and that the second half of their pay would be withheld. As of Thursday morning, they had received a follow-up email with more specific reasoning.

Lardinois noted that no evidence is required for a removal of a commissioner, but said in an email that “several people, including anonymous members of the public and of the Elections Commission, voiced complaints with both commissioners to several SUA officers, and several members of the Assembly had issues as well.” He would not comment on the details of the closed meeting.

The two students who were fired have asked Lardinois and Campus Elections Commissioner and Assistant Dean of Students Lucy Rojas for reasons regarding their termination. Rojas did not comment by time of print.

“The basis of this whole action was really, really frivolous and petty, and had a lot to do with inner relationships with SUA,” Garst said. “There’s a lot of inconsistencies that I would like explanations for that I don’t think I’m going to get.”

Garst speculated on possible reasons for his termination, but was confident he handled all complaints in an appropriate manner. He said there was one formal hearing, in which a current elected officer accused a candidate of using organizations’ email groups to send mass campaigning emails. The candidate was found guilty and restricted from campaigning on May 13.

“We believe the way [the candidate] obtained the emails does not align with the method she claims,” the hearing outcome majority opinion read. “Although we are not certain how she obtained the emails, we are confident that the manner in which they were collected gave her an unfair advantage, therefore violating the elections code.”

The dissenting opinion questioned the commission’s ability to punish without proof beyond a reasonable doubt. It said the board could not establish “with confidence” how the emails were collected.

There was another complaint made against that candidate and two others for illegal fliering in Stevenson, but didn’t result in a hearing. Garst said he took appropriate action by ordering the candidates to take the fliers down and ensuring they were gone by having the Stevenson and Cowell elections commissioner representatives remove any fliers posted by the three candidates anywhere in Stevenson.

The same person who filed the fliering complaint emailed Garst and Rojas again Tuesday night — before the election commissioners were terminated — pushing for immediate action to be taken against Garst because the fliers were still posted in Stevenson, he said.

A few hours later, Garst and Davis received an email that SUA would be reviewing the elections commission at the SUA meeting. Later that night they were terminated.

“I still care a lot about voting, but this was a stab in the back,” Garst said. “I was worried when I got that email [about the ongoing fliering complaint Tuesday night] but I thought there would be enough reason and common sense in SUA to talk about it with Tamisha and I present, and other members of the commission present, not just an immediate decision made in 45 minutes of a closed-session meeting that I might never know about.”

As the SUA Constitution requires meetings be held in closed session “when the SUA is discussing or voting on issues dealing directly with the hiring, firing, appointing or removal of positions and staff within the SUA,” the SUA elections commissioners were not in attendance.

“I’m open for any opinions, and if they felt any way, they should have called me to a meeting. They meet every Tuesday and they could have given me feedback,” Davis said. “I would have appreciated that more than being fired out of the blue. I just felt like it was very unprofessional.”

Davis said she received no feedback or areas of improvement while employed by SUA. She said she organized with Garst five more debates than last spring and they were working to address the issue of low voter turnout on campus. As of Tuesday morning, 16 percent of undergraduate students had voted — the highest first-day voter turnout in eight years.

The SUA budget allocates $500 pay to the SUA elections commissioner and $400 to the associate elections commissioner. The second part of their pay will be withheld and allocated for the newly elected commissioners — Grace Shefcik and Amanda Kazden. Shefcik was the College Ten elections commissioner and Kazden the Porter elections commissioner.

Davis said she has worked at least 30 hours since her first paycheck in early April. She and Garst agreed that the bulk of the work for the commission is completed before voting begins, like advertising for voting week and planning the all-candidate debate, which was last Monday.

“Everything is done already,” Davis said. “What is [Shefcik’s] job? We already did the work to get her here.”

Shefcik said her top priority is to finish the elections smoothly, and keep the momentum of strong voter turnout. She plans to hold additional tabling in the Quarry, bring back the UCSC Elections twitter and continue fliering.

“I plan for the commission to meet at least two more times before results are announced,” Shefcik said. “Some things I have planned for these meetings are brainstorming tactics to push voting at the end of the week, and later reviewing, confirming and sharing final results once they are in, as well as having a general debrief.”