Student execs raise own salaries by $6,200 each, fire comptroller general

The most recent Board of Administration (BOA) meeting saw a motion for Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) executive salary increases, leading to the resignation of four BOA members.

The motion was presented by vice-president finance Rizki Rachiq, and moved to increase executive salaries from the current $33,550 to $39,750 for the 2017–18 year—an increase of 18 per cent, or $6,200 each.

In an accompanying PowerPoint presentation, Rachiq said that SFUO executives are paid less than student union executives in Canada per hour, and even less than some employees of the federation. He also said that the executive is not eligible for overtime, though they work in excess of their designated 40 hours per week.

Rachiq explained that higher salaries would encourage more students to run for executive positions in future elections, and vice-president university affairs Vanessa Dorimain added that this wage increase would lead to a more inclusive student movement, especially for mature students and student parents.

Some of the debate on the motion revolved around increasing the salaries of other SFUO employees, who are paid significantly less in net wages.

Faculty of Arts representative and incoming vice-president of services and communications Kathryn LeBlanc said she was not comfortable accepting a pay raise while the staff who worked with her at the food bank would not receive one for themselves.

LeBlanc said that many SFUO staff are living below the poverty line and that their salaries do not make their work inclusive.

In a public statement on Facebook following the meeting, LeBlanc wrote, “As the incoming vice-president of services and communications, I can attest that I do not feel comfortable accepting a $6,000 raise.”

LeBlanc further wrote that she will be donating donate her raise to the SFUO food bank in $500 or $1,000 instalments, likely in the form of physical goods. This was also announced during the March 12 meeting.

Rachiq responded saying that he did want to increase wages for other staff, but this would be handled separately from executive salaries.

Due to changes in staffing this year, extra money in the line of the budget was allocated to administration, which is where executive salaries come from, according to Rachiq. Current SFUO president Roméo Ahimakin noted that money was originally moved from the services budget line to the administrative budget line.

Faculty of Engineering representative Jeffry Colin then asked if the salary increases would interfere with club funding, to which Rachiq explained that club funding would return “eventually” next year and would have its own budget line. However, Rachiq noted that the future club subsidy will not be as high as in previous years.

Colin, Ahimakin, and LeBlanc all raised concerns about the federation’s financial situation, saying they would support the motion if the SFUO were in better financial standing, but not in its current state of “crisis.”

Ahimakin stressed that he wanted money to go towards full-time services positions next year. He also said that the executive would have to find the money each year for the new salary.

Ahead of the vote, Faculty of Health Sciences representative Ellen Galupo requested that any board member who had a financial interest in the motion, specifically if they were elected to an executive position, abstain from voting.

At this point, chairperson Shawn Hunsdale said that no member of the board could be compelled to vote a certain way, but urged members to consult the SFUO’s policy on conflicts of interest. Hunsdale then read the pertinent sections, which say that any board member who has a monetary interest in a motion should not vote.

“I believe the sense captures the incoming executive,” Hunsdale said.

Faculty of Law representative Lee Chitty noted that he didn’t see any legal problems coming from this, but raised potential “moral” issues.

Ultimately, the motion to raise executives’ salaries passed. The only current members of the executive not to vote in favour were Ahimakin, who voted against, and vice-president of services and communications Francesco Caruso, who was absent.

As a result of this motion passing, multiple members of the board announced their resignation following the meeting. As of the date of this publication, the following members have resigned: Princejeet Singh Sandhu (Faculty of Engineering), Ellen Galupo (Faculty of Health Sciences), Caylie McKinlay (Faculty of Social Sciences), and Milly Pang (Telfer School of Management).

“Today … I have been absolutely taken aback by the decision of our Board to increase Executive salaries, when a motion in support of a $15 living wage for all employees was quickly disregarded at a prior meeting,” McKinlay wrote in a public Facebook post. “There is a clear statement here about the value of economic justice for students at large. That being, not well regarded.”

“I cannot and will not associate myself with an organization that claims to be for students and actively works against us, the students,” Galupo wrote in a similar post.

Fate of comptroller general

In addition to the motion to raise the executives’ salaries, the meeting saw a motion brought during an in-camera session to remove Tanner Tallon from his role as comptroller general of the SFUO.

Faculty of Social Sciences representative Iris Wong asked to have private notes taken during the session to help future boards know how the incident was handled.

Standard SFUO practice is generally not to keep notes during in-camera sessions.

The board ultimately voted to go in-camera and abstain from keeping a record of the session.

Following the 50-minute in-camera session, Faculty of Sciences representative and incoming vice-president of university affairs Axel Ngamije-Gaga asked Tallon if he believes he is able to successfully operate in both French and English. Tallon replied that he found himself suitably bilingual to work as comptroller general.

Vice-president social Hadi Wess, who was in favour of the motion, voiced concerns that Tallon used his power as comptroller general for personal matters. Wess highlighted Tallon’s complaints against his opponent Rachiq after the election.

Wess also discussed screenshots of a conversation that allegedly showed Tallon enjoying how he was portrayed while giving his reports on the executive, because it showed him “roasting” them. Wess also alluded to comments made by Tallon regarding Rachiq, but did not give specific details.

Dorimain accused Tallon of using his power as comptroller general and his public reports to “make the executive look a certain way.”

Chitty said he had problems with Tallon’s behaviour, but after reviewing the evidence presented during the in-camera session, he was not convinced that Tallon had breached his contract.

Ahimakin said he worried firing Tallon would expose the SFUO to legal liability.

At this point the motion was read to remove Tallon as comptroller general. The motion carried, and the meeting was subsequently adjourned.

The SFUO General Assembly takes place on March 14 at 6 p.m. in Marion Auditorium. The next BOA meeting will take place on April 2 at 1 p.m. in TBT 083.