Senate move online creates problems, solutions

The revised “Good Samaritan Policy” became the first resolution passed by Student Senate in their all-digital format.

Amended last week, the measure calls for alleviating University-related penalties for students caught in an alcohol or drug-related medical emergency at Missouri Southern. It was the first Senate resolution to be submitted digitally and while paper copies were distributed to Senators during the meeting, it marks the end of the paper trail.

During the fall semester e-mail and Senate’s new Blackboard site will be the primary modes of communication. Resolutions and allocation requests will be submitted digitally, with a digital e-mail “signatures” doubling for the physical signatures currently required. Senate President, Tim Fisher, said he established the site, in part, to stimulate discussion with Senate members who seldom see each other outside of meetings.

“It’s been really limited because until I got Blackboard together we didn’t even e-mail each other,” Fisher said. “And that was kind of my concern that we didn’t have – outside of this room or just running into somebody on campus – we didn’t really have a great means for exchange.”

But exchanging business online …

can constitute a closed meeting, unless the discussion board records are made public, says Jean Maneke, an attorney representing the Missouri Press Association.

“The term ‘public meeting,’ under the Sunshine Law, is defined to include meetings by Internet message board. So that message board, because it’s accessible to everyone who is a member of the Student Senate, needs to be available to the public, just like the public is invited to attend the meetings,” Maneke said.

Fisher said he debated about the discussion board, first setting it up, then taking it down. It is currently online in hopes that Senators will decide to make use of it.

“It’s blank,” Fisher said. “I thought about posting the other day.”

Requests for public access will be granted through the Senate secretary. However, taking Senate business behind the password-protected site does not create a private discussion.

“If you’ve got a quorum, if you’ve got the majority of the members of a public body on any site – I don’t care if it’s Facebook or any other site – and they are discussing public business, they need to follow the Sunshine Law on that,” Maneke said.

Fisher believes the Blackboard site will speed things up and allow Senators to read resolutions and arrive at meetings ready for discussion.

“The thing is we’re just kind of inventing this, we don’t have a guideline for it,” Fisher said, “As for next semester, I don’t know.”

Senate officer elections for next year will be held in late April.

“I’m not going to withhold anything,” Fisher said. “My concern is that both the amendments and the original get the proper attention that they deserve.”

Only a few meetings are left for the group this year with no new resolutions or appropriations requests for next week’s meeting.

Dr. Bruce Speck is scheduled to take Senator’s questions at the April 16 meeting. Petitions for Senate office will be available April 14 and due April 21. Elections for next year’s Senate officers will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 28 and 29 in the Campus Activities Board office. Students who file an officer petition will be entered in the fall general Senate election.