Parts 2 & 3 – Back to the drawing board: reflecting on the 2017-18 directors

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Photo by Sadman Sakib Rahman

The Cord’s Editor-In-Chief, Safina Husein, conducted an investigation of the Students’ Union’s 2017-18 board of directors, following up with allegations of sexism and various other dysfunctions which were disclosed to The Cord by various board members during  their final board reviews conducted in April, which consist of confidential, anonymous interviews. This story is part two and three of a four-part series released by The Cord. The first-part can be found here. Part four will be released by The Cord at a later date.

Part 2: Inconsistencies within meeting minutes

For the board of directors, as a unit which makes significant decisions for students and on behalf of students, maintaining transparency is a trait the Students’ Union and board of directors commonly discusses and strives towards.

Students’ Union’s Facebook live videos, live Twitter updates, as well as meeting minutes, are all examples of avenues which students can use to stay informed and hold the board accountable.

However, this past year, this accountability seemed to lack with regards to the board’s meeting minutes.

In particular, some meetings minutes this past year were left incomplete for months at a time and, according to various directors, were inconsistent in terms of their accuracy and attention to detail.

Ian Muller, director of policy, research and advocacy at the Students’ Union, explained that each meeting’s minutes is to be completed by the secretary, who is hired and employed by the board.

Although the secretary is an employee of the collective board, the chair — as representative of the board — works closely with the secretary, monitoring the responsibilities of the secretary.

According to Plummer, the inconsistency surrounding meeting minutes first stemmed from the secretary’s resignation last summer.

“This is the first time in a long time that we’ve had a board secretary who had resigned. When that board secretary resigned there was a back log of minutes that were supposed to be passed but were never passed,” Plummer said.

Plummer noted that the backlog of minutes was from two of the board’s longest meetings which took place over the summer of the 2017-18 year — one of which was five hours and the other which was four hours in length.

As a result, the new secretary that was hired in September had a difficult time keeping up with ongoing meetings while catching up on the significant amount of minutes that were still left from the summer months.

However, much of this backlog was still left incomplete in December 2017. In fact, the Aug. 11 meeting minutes weren’t released until second  semester of the 2017-18 board’s tenure.“The Students’ Union Constitution outlines that minutes of board meetings have to be approved by the board of directors at a subsequent board meeting … not necessarily at the very next meeting, just at a subsequent meeting,” Muller said.

Although the release of the minutes followed policies and guidelines, being that they were still approved at a subsequent meeting, Rezkalla and Wojtanowski pointed out that it is difficult to spot discrepancies or errors in minutes from a meeting that took place over five months ago.

“I can’t go back and correct [minutes] if I think something’s wrong because my memory doesn’t serve me back to seven months ago to a meeting we had,” Wojtanowski said.

“Not having meeting minutes — how can we continuously hold the president and CEO accountable if we can’t hold ourselves accountable. That’s hypocritical.”

However, in February, Rezkalla and Wojtanowski began to observe another issue with regards to meeting minutes; this time, surrounding the accuracy and attention to detail within the completed minutes.

“I started noticing in the minutes that there were a lot of ‘inaudible comments,’” Rezkalla said. “I get here and there, maybe two, but I kept seeing them as I was going through.”

According to Plummer, the use of “inaudible comments” in meeting minutes occurs when the secretary is unable to decipher what a director has said.

“It doesn’t essentially mean a sentence or paragraph that’s missing. It essentially means a word or two, because individuals have different accents and individuals pronounce things differently,” Plummer said.

However, Rezkalla noted that she counted approximately 50 ‘inaudible comments’ within two different meeting minutes.

“I decided I would bring up a few examples and hopefully that would sway the board to wait on approving the minutes and look back and fix it [sic],” Rezkalla said.

According to Rezkalla, when the issue was brought to the board table, the discussion on the matter was tabled until the next meeting.

However, when the next meeting’s agenda package was released, along with the meeting minutes in question, the ‘inaudible comments’ within the minutes from the previous meetings had been deleted.

To this matter, Plummer stated that the secretary went back and had a second look at the minutes in question in-between the two meetings.

“The board secretary went back, listened to the recordings, watched the videos and saw if they could find or to figure out or decipher what word could be placed there,” he said.

According to Rezkalla and Wojtanowski, the places where “inaudible comment” had been used in the minutes may have been replaced with new words in some instances, however, in other instances where it was used, the inaudible comments may have been simply deleted from the record completely — potentially leaving responses altered or left out.

“It could be a complete oversight, but from my standpoint, there were responses omitted and it’s completely against our constitution and student rights,” Rezkalla said.

From Plummer’s standpoint, he believed the number of inaudible comments present in the minutes in question would “not have made a significant difference at all” to the overall quality of the minutes.

Indeed, despite Rezkalla and Wojtanowski’s concerns, the board approved the minutes.

“Some of the defences that some of the board members had voiced is that they don’t have to be perfect: they can be missing a few things here and there. Sure – and in my opinion a few things is a few words … next to nothing is, in my opinion, what that would mean,” Wojtanowski said.

Plummer explained that the main purpose of meeting minutes is to document the decisions and motions made at the board table.

“When it comes to any additional comments that were said by anyone, is essentially a luxury we have to look at that,” he said.

“The main focus is essentially on what the motions were, did the motion pass, how much did it pass by, do we know what we have to do for next time … perfect, that’s what binds the board there. Not necessarily each individual word.”

As the board decided to approve the minutes, no other board member, besides Wojtanowski and Rezkalla spoke in defence of investigating the deletion of inaudible comments.

Part 3: Misuse of private messaging during meetings

Meeting minutes, however, were not the only instance in which it seemed that many directors stayed silent during a situation in which discussion and thoroughness was essential.

The silence and lack of cohesive, productive conversation at board meetings was often attributed to the influence of private messaging on social media platforms.

“Typically, we encourage [directors] to use their devices to access policies … this is the first year where we had a situation where there was too much communication on devices and not enough over the table,” Plummer said.

Indeed, many former directors noted that communication on social media and use of devices during meetings surpassed accessing policies and board resources

“When you’re at the board table, there are lines of communication like let’s say through iMessage on your laptop. Even I do it … but not to tell someone how to vote,” Rezkalla said.

“There are things that I do point out strategically,” Rezkalla said. “When one person continuously talks, people stop listening. You have to create a sort of support system [within the board].”

As pointed out by Rezkalla, private communication during meetings can be useful such as professionally discussing policies and topics to discuss during meetings. However, this was not always the case for some individuals on the board.

“I’ve seen … messages with other board members and they’re either commenting on what someone said, or telling each other how to vote. It’s not productive conversation,” Rezkalla said.

“It’s more like let’s talk about what this person said, why is she repeating herself or why is he saying that … I don’t have definitive details or responses on those messages, but I have seen them and the only reason I haven’t fully seen them is because [directors] try to hide them.”

Various former board members reiterated that these private messages often hindered the board’s ability to take part in open, honest conversations during meetings.

“People were definitely messaging on social media personally. That was apparent even when we were voting on chair and vice-chair last February. You could see that there were certain questions that were composed before they were asked,” Hakim said.

In this sense, some board members alluded to the idea that their fellow directors were using avenues of private communication in order to plan out and discuss how they would vote for certain motions, instead of speaking publicly in the meeting about what they believed.

“[Klaudia  and I] would talk outright to them, and they would keep their agendas to themselves, and then vote. We’re open to listening … you shouldn’t go into meetings with your list of things that you want to get done,” Rezkalla said.

In sum, a common critique which surfaced during The Cord’s anonymous board reviews with the 2017-18 directors was their inability to put aside personal agendas and differenced in order to accomplish productive work at the board table.

The apparent misuse of private messaging at the board table reiterates this shortcoming and indicates that the directors were limited by their inability to communicate open and honestly with one another.

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