Two SA senators exceed unexcused absence limit

Stuart Hughes

Two senators have violated the attendance policies outlined by Students’ Association bylaws, making them eligible for impeachment.

SA bylaws state that for a senator, “more than three unexcused absences shall be grounds for removal,” and Sens. Cole Breuer and Jared Ellefson have both exceeded the limit.

There are five acceptable reasons for an absence listed: sickness, conflict with testing, family emergency, adverse weather conditions and a university excused absence.

In case of an absence, senators are to file proxies, which grants another senator the ability to vote on their behalf to ensure accurate representation of their college. When a senator skips a meeting and fails to notify Senate leadership or file a proxy, it is classified as an unexcused absence.

SA Vice President Anthony Sutton said the most common reasons students miss meetings are conflicting conferences and family matters.

“Senators cannot always make every meeting,” Sutton said. “This is why we allow senators to file for proxies. But you’re either serving the students, or you’re not.”

Breuer, an at-large senator, missed seven meetings this term unexcused — the most of any other senator. Breuer is an unelected senator who was selected through an application process, which is used to fill vacant seats in the Senate. Breuer said his role allows him to advocate for campus-wide issues and provides him greater freedom with his schedule. He said his absences do not mean he is not representing students.

“Sometimes the agenda isn’t relevant to my agenda,” Breuer said. “I regularly hold office hours to make sure students can always get a hold of me.”

Ellefson is a current senator for the College of Arts and Sciences and a candidate for SA president. In his term beginning in April of 2011, he has four unexcused absences, which he said are due to outside activities and the illness of his grandmother, who was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins lymphoma and other illnesses in March 2002.

However, Ellefson’s reasons have not always been considered factual by the SA president and vice president.

Ellefson filed a proxy April 11, 2011, citing “family matters” as the reason for the absence. This proxy was initially confirmed by SA President Mark York.

Ellefson said he needed to care for his sick grandmother, who he said was living in her home in Pipestone, Minn., and required assistance from family members.

On the same night Stephanie Herseth Sandlin spoke at the Performing Arts Center as part of the Harding lecture series. York went there after the Senate meeting, and he said he saw Ellefson sitting in the audience.

“As he walked toward me I said, ‘Hi,’ and he bolted the other direction after seeing me without saying a word,” York said. York then denied Ellefson’s proxy request from that night.

The Senate meetings begin at 7 p.m., and Ellefson said he didn’t get back from Pipestone until 7:40 p.m. He said that rather than walk in late, he decided to go to Herseth Sandlin’s lecture. Since he filed a proxy, he thought it was an excused absence.

Since that incident, Ellefson never again filed for a proxy.

“York and Sutton made it clear that my grandmother’s illness was not a valid reason for an absence, so I thought, ‘Why file any more proxies after being denied?’” Ellefson said.

York denied ever making such a statement.

“The bylaws have exceptions for reasons exactly like the illness of a family member,” York said. “We would never deny any senator in that situation.”

Neither Breuer nor Ellefson has been removed as a result of their absenteeism. Sutton said this is because a long and time-consuming process is required to remove a senator from office.

A senator may be dismissed in two ways: by a Senate vote or by a student body vote. Removal by the Senate requires a motion to dismiss a senator, followed by a hearing and a vote. A three-fourths vote is required to remove a senator from office.

“In the Senate we have to weigh the benefits and costs of removing a senator,” Sutton said. “We have so much going on in Senate right now, that sometimes it just isn’t worth it to go through the hassle of removing a senator and going through measures to replace that senator.”

York said that while attendance is a vital part of a senator’s duties, the effectiveness of a senator cannot be based solely on attendance.

“[Breuer] was always available when we needed to meet, and Ellefson has been very active as a part of the GSA on campus,” York said. “While attendance is absolutely important, senators do serve the students in other ways.”