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Friday, July 01, 2022

Tense Senate meeting addresses abuse of power investigation

SG Minority Party Leader Faith Corbett announced abuse of power investigation request into Senate President Hartzog after the canceled May 17 Senate meeting and Israel trip.

UF Student Government senators resumed their weekly meetings May 24, and senators grappled over committee recommendations and ethical dilemmas.

UF Senate confirmed five senators to its Rules and Ethics committee. Gator Party's overwhelming majority pushed these confirmations through Change Party's dissent on each vote. 

Minority Party Leader Faith Corbett said Senate’s vote on Rules and Ethics’ recommended candidates was unethical and motioned to refer those seats back to the Replacement and Agenda committee. 

The committee was underperforming, she said, by not fairly filling seats and not considering candidates’ potential connections to Senate President Elizabeth Hartzog and her pending investigations.  

President Pro-Tempore Olivia Green mentioned Hartzog abstained from all votes pertaining to the Rules and Ethics Committee when it voted on the recommendations. 

Hartzog rejected Corbett’s motions as Chair of the Senate and ruled 11 lines of communication as dilatory throughout the hour-and-a-half long meeting.

Hartzog canceled the May 17 Senate meeting and traveled to Israel.  She and External Affairs Director Noah Fineberg took the trip with a group of senators and student government officials. Both said they attended in their personal capacities in statements to The Alligator last week.

UF Hillel said in an Instagram post it annually “brings a group of top student leaders to Israel to explore the geopolitics of the Middle East and discover firsthand the complexities of the political situation in the region.” It posted Instagram pictures of this year’s attendees, including SG officials, on Instagram Tuesday afternoon. 

In addition to a student complaint, Change Party has moved forward with a censure investigation for abuse of power against Hartzog. The Rules and Ethics Committee set a hearing for June 2. 

“In Student Government, we are the minority party. If we are not here to check the majority party, what are we really doing?” Deputy Minority Party Leader Mohammed Faisal asked Senate. 

Judiciary Chairman John Brinkman said the complaint against Hartzog was unfounded. He cited the Rules and Procedures of Senate which gives Hartzog the power to cancel Senate at her discretion, saying that she’d done nothing outside of her jurisdiction.

“The claims provided here are disgraceful to any reasonable observer of the facts,” Brinkman said during public comment.

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Corbett addressed Hartzog and Brinkman by name. “Put simply, if you are innocent, the facts should point this way.”

Sen. Mara Vaknin addressed senators’ failure to listen respectfully to dissenting opinions without scoffing or laughing.

“It has nothing to do with politics, fairness or investigations and everything to do with being a kind and respectful human being,” Vaknin said.

Green apologized to senators who might have been offended by the discourse surrounding their confirmation into their committee roles and encouraged all senators to apply for open committee spots despite the hectic meeting.

Hartzog and Vaknin have not responded to emails from The Alligator concerning comments made during the meeting.

Senate meetings are held weekly on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. in the Senate Chamber of the Reitz Union.

Contact Sandra McDonald at smcdonald@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @sn_mcdonald

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