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Honor Council found 'in violation'

By Anita Alem     12/3/14 7:08am

The Blanket Tax Contingency Committee found the Honor Council in violation of the blanket tax process. The Honor Council has pledged to return its surplus rollover of $18,882, according to Student Association President Ravi Sheth. The Contingency Committee reviewed the Honor Council with three possible outcomes: in good standing, in violation and in aggravated violation. If an organization is found in violation three times within a period of four years, the Contingency Committee may recommend that the blanket tax be reduced or removed. A count of aggravated violation is equivalent to two violations. After this decision, the Honor Council stands at one violation.

The only other way by which a blanket tax organization’s funding can be reduced is by an initative petitioned directly by the students and voted on in the General Elections. 

The organization was judged based on four criteria outlined in the SA Constitution. These criteria included whether the organization acted as good stewards of student money and whether the funds were used in a manner consistent with the organization’s mission, for organizational purposes and consistent with Rice rules and regulations. 

The Honor Council was found in violation of two criteria: acting as good stewards of student money and using the blanket tax funds in a manner consistent with the organization’s mission, goals and purposes.

According to the Report on Contingency Review, the Contingency Committee found three examples showing that the Honor Council did not act as good stewards of student money. The Honor Council’s budgets for 2013-14 were found to reflect irresponsible record-keeping, although the committee commended the organization for its recent budget amendment efforts. The committee noted that the Honor Council did not spend its blanket tax funds properly from 2013-14 and the years before, indicated by the $21,582 surplus at the start of the 2014-15 review year. The Committee also recommended the Honor Council halve the changeover dinner budget to $25/person.

However, while the changeover dinner cost was decreased in the amended budget, other new food expenses were added, which increased the total amount spent on food by $500. 

In order to determine whether the Honor Council is in aggravated violation, the Contingency Committee evaluated the organization based on three criteria outlined within the SA n Constitution: if the organization’s budget reflected a surplus of at least 50% in the previous year, if the organization has not adequately justified its surplus and if the organization does not indicate a reasonable attempt to address this issue. If the Honor Council were to be found in violation of all three criteria, the committee would then require a two-thirds majority vote to find the organization in aggravated violation.

According to the report, the Honor Council had made a good faith effort to make a reasonable attempt to address the issues and surpluses in the 2014-15 year. As a result, the Contingency Committee did not find the organization in aggravated violation.

In Honor Council’s amended 2014-15 budget, the surplus decreased from the initial 50% to 43%. This was due to the addition of a $2,260 expense for training conferences not included in the original budget as well as the increased amount budgeted for food. The annualized replacement costs for furniture and electronics remained unchanged. 

According to Sheth, when and if the Honor Council returns its surplus, the SA executive committee will determine how to best allocate the approximately $18,000 in funds. Sheth said because this is the first time a Contingency Committee has ever convened, the ruling will have lasting effects on the blanket tax review process.

“I believe that this is an important moment for the effectiveness of our processes, and also gives us an opportunity to reflect and think about what we can do better in our overall allocations, and processes — which our Blanket Tax Crack Team... is currently looking into,” Sheth said.

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