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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Student Body President to file case for ‘political bribery, extortion’ after negotiations fall through

New budget proposal blindsides the Gator caucus, Change affirms there is no extortion

<p>Student Body President Olivia Green announcing during public comment the case she is filing against members of Change Party on Tuesday, June 6, 2023. </p>

Student Body President Olivia Green announcing during public comment the case she is filing against members of Change Party on Tuesday, June 6, 2023.

The UF Senate Chambers faces tensions and negotiations during an all-time high of political polarization from the executive nominations being held up for seven weeks. 

Student Government Senate President Oscar Santiago Perez (Change-District D) and Majority Party Leader Simone Liang (Change-CLAS) proposed a negotiation bill to Student Body President Olivia Green and Minority Party Leader Bronson Allemand (Gator-District A) during a Zoom meeting the morning of June 6. 

The bill — Investing in Needs, Development, Inclusion and Empowerment — is an amendment to the 2023-2024 Fiscal Year and Activity and Service Fee Budget. 

Change alleged they would approve most of the executive nominees if I.N.D.I.E is signed — According to Allemand, there is no assurance that the nominees would actually be approved if authorized, he said. 

Multiple nominees were excluded from the contract, most notably ACCENT Agency Head Nominee Samuel Hendler — Hendler would lose $150,000 from his budget in the proposed bill.

The proposed budget is supposed to go into effect in three weeks and has not gone through the proper procedure as outlined in chapter 821 of the SG 800 codes, Allemand said. 

Part of the proposed budget would include funding to help restore a quarter million dollars to student organizations, DEI initiatives and contraceptive vending machines on campus, according to the Change caucus 

Allemand affirmed that no feasibility studies have been done on this proposed budget, and the contract is full of empty promises, he said.

“The authors of the bill had not notified any of the Big 5 entity directors in the proper format as outlined by chapter 821.1,” Allemand said. “The only person with the ability to officially notify these entities is the budget chairperson.” 

The Budget and Appropriations Committee Chairman, Blake Cox (Gator-District A), was not aware of the budget proposal until Allemand contacted and added him to the Zoom call. 

Cox expressed his frustrations over not being notified or included in conversations about the budget, and he had made it clear to senators at the May 30 meeting to reach out to him if there were any amendments to the budget, he said.

“I have never had to raise my voice nor felt as angry as I have today, and I have tried so hard to fight the bridge between both parties,” Cox said. “It feels like I've been shot in the back.” 

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The attempt to gridlock the student government branches is absurd and a threat, Green said. 

“As much as I would like to sit here and pretend you guys are doing this for students, I don’t believe that at all,” Green said. “How can you justify this and not view it as a form of political gain?” 

Liang affirmed that she did not understand the accusations of not being bipartisan and going for political gain, and contended that issues surrounding bodily autonomy, DEI and mental health initiatives are issues facing the whole student body, she said. 

The proposal shocked Allemand, who spent hours deliberating during the June 4 Replacement and Agenda Committee meeting. The lack of bipartisanship alarmed him, he said. 

“You guys want us to buy the executive nominations for $1.6 million dollars,” Allemand said. “This is utterly ridiculous.”

Santiago Perez contended on the call that they don’t just want to be a resource for Change, they want to be a resource for Gator, too. 

“As Senate president I am here to represent the entire senate, not just my caucus,” Santiago Perez said. “But ultimately, each senator has their own autonomy to act on their own accord.” 

At the almost four-hour-long June 6 Senate meeting later that day, 20 people went on the stand for public comment to voice their concerns about the earlier meeting.

Green announced during public comment she will file a case against Santiago Perez, Liang and Judiciary Committee Chair Jonathan C. Stephens (Change-District D) for allegedly colluding in political bribery and extortion. 

The case is to presumably be brought up to the UF Supreme Court. 

“I will no longer accept this corruption and gridlock in student government and I will be filing a case against you three that reflects that,” Green said. “If they [fail] almost every [executive] nomination tonight we will all know why.” 

Santiago Perez shared how disheartening it is to see the current state of the senate being at an all time high of polarization. 

The hostility has led members of the Change caucus to feel disillusioned and angry, Santiago Perez said. 

“Both sides need to take accountability for this,” Santiago Perez said. “In real government we see compromise [all the time]. I believe something similar can happen between Change and Gator to work for the student body.” 

Santiago Perez expressed that  both sides should reevaluate what is happening within the chambers and come to a solution, they said. 

Former Sen. Mohammed Faisal (Change-District D) brought up the previous actions of the Gator caucus during the Spring 2023 cycle during his public comment. 

“I remember a time in which [we] didn't get sworn in for five weeks, what happened? Oh, yeah, that's right. Y'all didn't show up [to meetings],” Faisal said. “From quorum bust to filibuster to walking out mid-meeting.”

Faisal made these comments in reference to a Supreme Court injunction to have Gator and Change come to a power splitting agreement. 

Catherine Giordano (Gator-District A), served as the budget appropriations Chairwoman for the Spring and Summer 2022 term, has two amended budgets — authored one of them — and was the author of Fiscal Year 2023 Activity and Services budget. She said she drove an hour to Gainesville after hearing about the proposal.

Giordano plans to fight for the budget her committee worked for hours on last summer, she said. 

“You have broken codes, misinterpreted countless codes and broken every damn rule in the book,” Giordano said. “And if you continue to do it, I will continue to see you in court.” 

Liang didn't expect to be hit with a case of political bribery for advocating for menstrual health products, contraceptive vending machines and organization funding, she said. 

“Yes, we are taking away $10,000 from cabinet programs,” Liang said. “But when issues like bodily autonomy are on the line and when you can't even say the words DEI in an email, then I'm not looking to do yoga in a park.” 

Sen. Christian Rodriguez (Change-CLAS) believes Change has to ensure candidates are well vetted and qualified for their position, whereas the other side of the caucus refuses to show up to meetings, he said.

“Graduate students are struggling to make living wages, the mental health epidemic is only worsening and students are starving with food insecurity rising every single day,” Rodriguez said. “These are tangible problems that student government can actually solve with legislation and executive action. We have the power to do that.”

Despite hours of turmoil, senators apologized when the floor opened for committee reports. Many expressed that mistakes were made and should not be held against one another. 

Motions were made to approve nominees. 

Sen. Jillian Sparkman (Gator-District A) was approved for an open seat in the Information and Communication Committee. 

The case claimed against Change senators has yet to be submitted. 

Contact Vivienne at vserret@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @vivienneserret.

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Vivienne Serret

Vivienne Serret is a UF journalism and criminology senior, reporting for The Alligator's university desk as the student government reporter and managing editor for The Florida Political Review. She loves debating, lifting at the gym and singing.


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