A public University Court hearing to investigate Rice Catalyst’s blanket tax subsidiary status will take place this Friday, in light of new information that Catalyst did not disclose annual funding from the Center for Civic Leadership. The allegations are based on a complaint filed by Student Association President Griffin Thomas in his capacity as a student.
According to an email from acting UCourt Chair Marcela Interiano, a Lovett College junior, the allegations state that Catalyst knowingly or unknowingly provided false information to the Blanket Tax Committee. Interiano’s email stated the BTC’s decision was negated.
“It has been brought to our attention that Rice Catalyst did not disclose an additional source of funding,” it said. “Therefore, the decision made by the Blanket Tax Committee is invalid.”
However, the email also said the committee’s decision may not be invalid depending on the hearing.
“[The ability of the BTC to make an informed decision] was compromised and therefore the decision made by the committee may be invalid,” the email said.
Thomas, who was a voting member of the BTC at the time of its decision on Catalyst, said he filed the complaint with UCourt after speaking with CCL Executive Director Caroline Quenemoen, who informed him that Catalyst received $2,500 to $3,000 annually from the CCL, according to a November 2014 email from Quenemoen to Catalyst leadership. According to Thomas, Rice Catalyst’s failure to report annual funding from the CCL renders the BTC’s decision invalid. Quenemoen could not be reached for comment before publication.
“That’s not to say how we would have come out with our decision on the Catalyst if this information had been provided, but I think the process should be invalidated because we need to go through the process again with [all of the] information,” Thomas, a Lovett junior, said.
According to Thomas, the BTC was aware that Catalyst received CCL funding at the time of the recommendation, but confirmed with Catalyst that the funding was not annual.
“Because they weren’t going to have that funding in the future, we determined that they did have a financial need, which is one of the [requirements] that we made our decisions on,” Thomas said.
However, Catalyst Treasurer Sai Chilakapati, who served as SA treasurer and sat on the BTC as a voting member at the time of the recommendation, said the funding from the CCL was not annual.
“We received [CCL] funding from last year and this year,” Chilakapati, a Hanszen College junior, said. “By definition, annual is contractual in nature. We don’t have a contract with the CCL.”
This year, Catalyst requested $3,000 from the BTC and was granted subsidiary status by the student body in the spring general election. The BTC recommends organizations to receive funding based on several requirements, including demonstrated financial need and the organization’s financial record keeping, according to Thomas.
“To be a blanket tax organization, you must have good record keeping and this calls into question that piece as well because they weren’t aware of this information,” Thomas said.
Chilakapati said he recused himself from both the BTC’s deliberations and vote on Catalyst’s subsidiary status, since he was treasurer of both the SA and Catalyst at the time.
“When we were talking about Catalyst, I recused myself from discussion unless a question was directly specified at Catalyst,” Chilakapati said.
Thomas said Chilakapati was a point of contact during the BTC’s deliberations.
“If we had questions about their blanket tax application, we could give it to Sai, who could go back to Catalyst to collect the necessary information,” Thomas said.
Thomas said he does not think Catalyst intended to deceive the BTC.
“I honestly think that the email stating the support was annual was simply not passed down,” Thomas said.
Thomas said to his knowledge, the subject of Friday’s hearing is unprecedented.
“The constitution is very vague in terms of what actually happens, so UCourt would have to provide us with guidance there about what would happen next if the BTC’s decision is invalidated,” Thomas said.
Thomas said he told Chilakapati when he filed the complaint with UCourt, but Chilakapati said he was not aware that a hearing would take place until he received Interiano’s email.
“I found out that something might be filed on Friday from Griffin, but officially we found out it was filed and this was going towards UCourt two hours ago,” Chilakapati said on Tuesday.
Chilakapati said he was confused about what he saw as inconsistencies in the judicial process and that the hearing was scheduled hastily.
“I just know that we have hearings set for this Friday,” Chilakapati said. “And to me that’s very short notice. And it’s a time that wasn’t even consulted on based off our availabilities.”
Chilakapati declined to address the specifics of the allegations until further review.
“I’d have to look at our organization and say what he’s speaking in regards to,” he said. “From our standpoint, this is something that is very new and we haven’t had a chance to look into the allegations.”
The hearing will take place on Friday at 4 p.m. in HUMA 118.