Flaws in MSA highlighted by 2015 election

Interim President Payton Head: “I think it's disrespectful of him to attack me and to attack the association considering he's caused all of this harm to our association already.”

Former Missouri Students Association President-elect Haden Gomez presented his perspective of the events leading up to his resignation in an email with the subject line “A Timeline of the 2015 MSA Elections” he sent to several members of MSA on Feb. 18.

In his email, he said MSA leaders showed favoritism to the Syed Ejaz/Heather Parrie slate and breached the constitution and bylaws to ensure he and running mate Chris Hanner would not assume office. He specifically accuses leaders of breaking the senior office neutrality clause and allowing personal attacks on him.

Gomez is not the only MSA member to criticize the association after his resignation. Former Campus and Community Relations Chairman Alex Higginbotham resigned the same night as Gomez. He said he could not continue to work with the association after the meeting, which he called “a public execution.” He said the meeting focused more on Gomez’s character than the actual infractions of his campaign.

“Right now, MSA is broken,” Higginbotham said. “Students who pay attention quite honestly hate MSA, and I don’t blame them. In my opinion, we earned that.”

The email came in the wake of a controversial election. Former Board of Elections Commissioners Chairwoman Emma Henderson was almost impeached for the way she handled campaign infractions. Before the election even started, Gomez was criticized for a post he made detailing his experience undergoing a Title IX investigation.

Gomez has made no public statement since his resignation during the Jan. 27 full Senate meeting. He was unavailable to comment after the meeting and has not addressed the resignation on any of his social media accounts. He said the timeline was written by other students within and outside of MSA.

“Although I very much looked forward to working with you, it seems as though some were unable to get passed (sic) the idea of supporting one candidate and them not winning,” Gomez said in the email, which Senate Speaker Kevin Carr forwarded to The Maneater.

Many Senate members supported the runner-up Syed Ejaz/Heather Parrie slate, as recently resigned MSA adviser Farouk Aregbe acknowledged the night of Gomez’s resignation.

“It is clear that a lot of people in this room supported one candidate or another, and we have to keep that in mind,” Aregbe said. “Three slates ran; for some reason we’re having a conversation about (only Ejaz/Parrie and Gomez/Hanner). We should be having a conversation about three.”

Gomez refused to elaborate on portions of the timeline or to comment on the situation.

“The facts of the timeline do not need verification from you,” he said in an email. “They are facts, which by definition doesn’t lend you leverage of their accuracy.”

The document alleges that MSA leaders coordinated Gomez’s and Hanner’s downfall before they even began campaigning. The first entry on the timeline states that now-interim MSA President Payton Head asked Ejaz to run for president to prevent Gomez from gaining the presidency.

Both Head and Ejaz said that Head asked Ejaz to run against Gomez. Ejaz first said it during open forum in the full Senate where Gomez resigned, and Head confirmed it in an interview.

The timeline argued that Head’s encouragement of Ejaz broke the senior officer neutrality clause of the MSA Constitution, which would be grounds for impeachment for nonperformance of duty.

The clause states: “The following offices shall be prohibited from publicly supporting or acting in a way that actively seeks the election of a candidate through the power of their office within the association.” The offices listed are the president, vice president and senate speaker.

Head said that he did not breach the neutrality clause because he did not give preferential treatment to Ejaz after he entered the election and became an official candidate.

“I guarantee you that was not grounds for impeachment because of the way it was done,” he said. “I would never knowingly cheat to help a candidate win. I'm not the cheater here.”

Former Secretary of Auxiliaries and current MSA presidential candidate Sean Earl said he did not believe Head broke the neutrality clause and said Head had a tendency to encourage everybody to run.

“When anybody asks Payton, ‘Hey, should I run for MSA president,’ he always says: ‘Why not? Throw your hat in the race,’” he said. “So people have that conversation and think, ‘Oh, Payton wants me to be the next president of MSA.’”

Interpretation of the constitution and bylaws usually falls to the MSA Operations Committee, which is the same committee that issued the legislation that would have blocked Gomez from assuming office. The Student Court has final authority on the interpretation of bylaws and the constitution, but they will only issue a ruling when petitioned.

The timeline also charged Head with breaking the neutrality clause on one other occasion by demanding that Gomez stop meeting with the MSA auxiliaries while planning his campaign. Head said he never issued that request and said the confusion resulted from a miscommunication with Earl, who was the secretary of auxiliaries at the time.

Earl said he never asked Gomez and Hanner to stop reaching out to the auxiliaries, but he said he had asked them to hold off on contacting them until he confirmed with Henderson that it was acceptable.

The BEC Handbook restricts auxiliaries from taking certain actions during the election, such as endorsing a candidate, and Earl said auxiliary directors were unsure whether they could communicate with Gomez and Hanner. The campaign period outlined in the handbook had not begun, either, so there was a question of whether they could reach out to the auxiliaries at all.

Head was frustrated that the timeline claimed he had worked to take down Gomez throughout the election. He said that he made himself available to Gomez and had moved out of his office at the beginning of the semester even though most presidents wait until the president-elect is inaugurated.

“I think it's disrespectful of him to attack me and to attack the association considering that he's caused all of this harm to our association already,” he said. “I gave him every single thing that he needed to be successful in the position and offered my time up to him.”

The document also accused Carr of breaking the senior office neutrality clause by submitting writs to the Student Court regarding the handling of campaign violations the night the announcement of election results was delayed. Chief Justice Whitney Barr clarified that those involved submitted petitions for writs of mandamus, not the writs themselves. She said the only petitions were submitted by Ejaz and Ejaz/Parrie’s campaign manager, Nick Benham.

Aregbe said in an Operations meeting before the Jan. 27 Senate that Carr supported Ejaz.

“This gentleman right here supported (Ejaz), and he’s the speaker of the Senate — it’s known, everybody knows it,” he said.

Carr interrupted Aregbe to tell him that he had no evidence of his support of Ejaz, to which he said, “I can show you evidence.” Aregbe could not be reached for comment.

The timeline also stated that vice presidential candidate Heather Parrie created a group called “Make Mizzou Great Again” that aimed to prevent Gomez from assuming office. Parrie said she did not create or have any involvement with the group, but that several senators created a GroupMe with that name and goal.

Carr said he did not know of the GroupMe at the time, but that a senator confirmed with him that it had existed after Gomez sent out his email.

The timeline also references the leaking of questions to Ejaz/Parrie before The Maneater’s closed door debate. The editorial board member responsible was terminated and other slates were given additional time to respond to leaked questions.

The post reads: “The Maneater confirmed that the neither Syed Ejaz or Heather Parrie personally requested the questions. It was our staffer’s personal decision to share the questions, which were posted on a staff Facebook page. During the actual debate, only three of the questions from that list were asked. All three slates were notified, and the other two slates were offered a second opportunity to respond to the leaked questions to level the playing field.”

The timeline claimed that students slandered him on social media and in person the day of his resignation. Several losing candidates criticized Gomez and Hanner in Facebook posts.

According to Law.com, oral defamatory statements are only considered slander if they are untrue. Written defamatory statements are categorized as libel and must also be untrue.

Head expressed frustration with the claim of slander.

“If he wants to know what slander is, he can Google my name,” he said in reference to backlash he received after he claimed the KKK was on campus the night of Nov. 10.

Head pointed out that Gomez hadn’t issued any sort of an apology to the student body or to Senate for his actions during the campaign. He said he thought students would be much more sympathetic toward him if he took ownership of his mistakes.

“I think that it's really unfair for him to point the finger at everybody else because I feel like there has been no attempt at all for him to say, ‘Look, I did this, I take complete ownership of this, and I apologize,’” he said.

He compared Gomez’s email to a letter former UM System President Tim Wolfe wrote that criticized MU administrators.

“You’d think he would’ve learned from Tim Wolfe’s letter that served no purpose at all,” Head said.

Earl said he thought it was easy to get caught up in the “rumor mill” when campaigning and focus on that instead of policy issues.

“He’s trying to get the message across that from the beginning everybody was against him and he still kept it classy and won at the end of the day,” he said. “But I also think that’s just his perception of things. You hear a lot during an election.”

Edited by Waverly Colville | wcolville@themaneater.com

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