SGA Executive President to face impeachment hearing

By DIVA PAREKH | February 14, 2019

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During the Student Government Association (SGA) weekly meeting on Tuesday, Executive Vice President AJ Tsang presented impeachment charges against Executive President Noh Mebrahtu. Mebrahtu will face an impeachment hearing during SGA’s next weekly meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 19. This hearing will be closed to the student body, as required by SGA’s constitution.

Though the full articles of impeachment are confidential, Tsang shared the overarching charges at the meeting. In the 20-page document, Tsang accused Mebrahtu of three primary charges. The first accused Mebrahtu of neglecting his duties, specifically by failing to: engage with SGA’s Senate and Executive board; represent SGA to administrators; and represent SGA in public settings.

The second accused Mebrahtu of appointing a suspended student to Chief of Staff, and the third accused him of repeated unethical behavior. 

The News-Letter filed a freedom of information request under SGA’s bylaws to obtain the full articles of impeachment that contain details about the charges. Internal Affairs (IA) Committee Chair and Senior Class Senator Jennifer Baron stated that SGA would respond to this request by 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 20 at the latest. The bylaws require SGA members to comply with the request within one week or provide a legitimate reason for not doing so.

Tsang explained that a minimum of 10 signatures are needed to prompt an impeachment hearing. According to Tsang, the impeachment document already has 15 signatures, though the names of the signatories remain confidential. 

Tsang emphasized in an interview with The News-Letter that after serving as vice president under Mebrahtu for three semesters, starting the impeachment process was his last resort. 

He explained that he drafted the articles of impeachment toward the end of January after he tried and failed to contact Mebrahtu about concerns that he had. According to Tsang, this was not the first time that concerns about Mebrahtu’s leadership have been raised.

“These articles are a mechanism of last resort for accountability, and I think that the Internal Affairs committee would find that there were previous instances in which members of SGA and members of the administration attempted to reach out to President Mebrahtu in the past and avoid the articles of impeachment,” Tsang said.

Baron and her six-person committee have been tasked with conducting a detailed investigation of all the accusations leveled against Mebrahtu. While the final decision on Mebrahtu’s presidency will be made public after the hearing on Feb. 19, Baron was unable to speak to whether any additional information or details uncovered in the investigation would be made available to the student body.

“We are trying to make sure that the people who are involved in the IA committee are putting their most effort and focus into the trial, and so if we try to expand our resources too much and try to keep everyone updated, that is not a good use of our resources considering our committee has six people and there are a lot of things we are looking into. We also need a small committee of six because if there are too many members, it’s hard to keep track of everything,” Baron said in an interview with The News-Letter.

She added that the allegations against Mebrahtu that Tsang identified at SGA’s weekly meeting would be the only information available to the student body for now.

In an interview with The News-Letter, Mebrahtu described his reaction to learning of the accusations leveled against him.

“When I saw the document, I realized that it’s pretty ridiculous. It’s to the point where the level of absurdity is really laughable,” he said. “There’s no actual, legitimate claim to this. If it were, I would actually be constitutionally liable, but I’m not.”

Going into the hearing, Mebrahtu asserted that he does not believe impeachment is a realistic possibility.

“I’m going to completely break down every single unfactual and false narrative that is placed out and show hard evidence that [the accusations] are really twisted versions of the truth,” he said.

A point of contention between Mebrahtu and Tsang was SGA’s relationship with the administration. Tsang explained that because of the significant administrative turnover, particularly within the Student Affairs office, SGA’s ability to advocate effectively to the administration was challenged.

“To mitigate this, SGA members have attempted to maintain positive relationships with members of the administration,” Tsang said. “Part of [SGA’s] duty is to build relationships with the administrators on behalf of the student body to make sure that the student body has a seat at the table in making decisions about the University.”

One of the charges leveled against Mebrahtu is a, “dereliction of duty to faithfully represent SGA to the administration.”

Mebrahtu acknowledged that his relationship with the administration had not been particularly positive. He cited scheduling conflicts as a primary reason he was not able to meet frequently with newly appointed Dean of Student Life Smita Ruzicka.

“My relationship with the administration was, since my junior year, very contentious. I felt like a lot of meetings with them weren’t too productive or helpful, and it became very contentious,” he said. “Trust with them kind of diminished moving onto this year.”

He explained that his goal when joining SGA was not to act as an extension of the administration but to represent student interests more effectively.

“The term ‘arm of the administration’ has always been on my mind. That is something that I’ve always tried to steer away from, and it’s been difficult, and there have been barriers, but I felt like I’ve succeeded in the past year and a half,” Mebrahtu said. “At the end of the day, I’ve always prioritized being a student voice over anything else. I’ll continue to do that for the next eight weeks.”

Another article of impeachment alleged that Mebrahtu had not been fulfilling his obligations to engage with different subgroups of SGA. Mebrahtu explained at the meeting on Tuesday that during his tenure he wanted to avoid micromanaging other SGA members.

“It’s unfortunate,” he said. “One thing I regret the most, honestly, is that although I feel I haven’t been present in your Senate Committees for SGA and class councils, I did so because I believe in a hands-off approach.”

At the meeting, Mebrahtu called the articles of impeachment “slanderous,” accusing the document of villainizing him. Tsang responded in an interview with The News-Letter.

“The objective of the articles of impeachment wasn’t ever, and is still not, to slander or hurt President Mebrahtu in any personal way,” Tsang said. “The articles of impeachment are not public documents. The documents are internal documents confidential to the SGA Senate meant to be part of our constitutional process for holding SGA members accountable as a measure of last resort.” 

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