Student group's money not on regents' agenda

2012-11-28T00:00:00Z Student group's money not on regents' agendaHoward Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
November 28, 2012 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX - A spokeswoman for the Board of Regents admitted Tuesday the panel's vote on Monday to stop funding the Arizona Students' Association was not on the posted agenda, but denied the action violated the Open Meeting Law.

Katie Paquet acknowledged the only thing made public before the meeting was that the board would discuss a policy allowing the association to tack its $2 fee onto tuition charges - an item she conceded was listed for discussion only.

Nonetheless, the board voted 7-2 to suspend the policy through at least February, effectively blocking the association from collecting the fee for the spring semester, wiping out $300,000 in association funding.

The board will make a final decision about the future of the policy in February.

Paquet said the intent to vote on the issue was not listed on the agenda because "the board did not know until the public-meeting discussion that this action would be offered or considered."

But Paquet said that did not require the regents to put off the action until it had been properly noticed.

Attorney Dan Barr, who specializes in First Amendment and public-meeting laws, disagreed.

"The point of the Open Meeting Law is to give 24 hours' notice to the public of what is to be discussed and considered at the meeting," he said. Barr said Paquet's admission the board didn't know 24 hours ahead of time a vote was going to happen is "a pretty good guide you shouldn't be voting on it."

Paquet, in her written response to questions, said the fact that the discussion was noticed on the agenda, coupled with the amount of discussion that took place before the vote, shows the board complied with the Open Meeting Law.

She did not explain why, if voting on the issue was not on the agenda, it was not postponed until a future meeting, since a December vote would have had the same effect of preventing the spring-semester fee collection.

Barr said board members, in wording the agenda the way they did, "clearly and unambiguously limited it to discussion only."

Paquet said the suspension motion, offered by Regent Dennis DeConcini, is not the final word.

"There will be at least two more scheduled board meetings at which the board can consider this issue" of allowing the student association to tack its fee onto tuition, she said. "The public will have an opportunity provide input."

DeConcini said he was told by the board's legal counsel his motion complied with the regents' policy allowing it, at any time, to suspend one of its own policies for up to 60 days. The former U.S. senator and Pima County attorney said he was assured the action does not violate the Open Meeting Law, a legal requirement that trumps any agency rules.

Denials the action violated the Open Meeting Law notwithstanding, Paquet said DeConcini's motion will be put back on the agenda in December.

Arizona law allows a public body to ratify actions taken in violation of the Open Meeting Law.

The policy allowing the student association to tack the fees on to tuition bills became the focus of a controversy when the association contributed more than $122,000 to the Proposition 204 campaign to create a permanent 1-cent-per-dollar surcharge on state sales taxes. That measure, which failed, would have provided $1 billion a year initially for K-12 education, road construction, social programs and university funding.

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