Daily Nexus Fights for Access, Uncovers Possible Misconduct

The Daily Nexus at the University of California, Santa Barbara is mounting a significant call-to-arms for open meetings while simultaneously investigating high-profile student government misconduct.  As Nexus editor in chief Mackenzie Weinger put it, “Overall, it’s been a highly interesting time to be a student journalist at UCSB.”

The basics: Late last month, the Associated Students Legislative Council [ASLC] at UCSB suddenly began closing off portions of its meetings to the public and press.  The Nexus quickly learned of a possible trigger behind the closures: a private villa owner alleging that a boozy ASLC-funded event in early January resulted in thousands of dollars of property damage.  It is embarrassing for the council and university, with possibly litigious consequences, made worse according to the paper by the cloak-and-dagger manner in which decisions on how to handle it are being debated.

The paper recently published an open letter to Governor Schwarzenegger, the University of California president, state legislators, and UC regents pushing for a legal closure to a loophole that allows UC student governments to bar outsiders from their proceedings: “Various California laws express the clear opinion that open meetings are a vital part of democratic government. . . . The only public higher education legislative council in this state unregulated by an open meeting act is [Associated Students of the University of California]. . . . Transparency in the legislative, fiscal and ethical arenas is vital to the quality and credibility of this university, and it is appalling that these abuses by student government have gone unchecked until now.  By proposing an amendment to an existing open meeting act or drafting a new act specifically designed to keep ASUC publicly accountable, we can ensure that our student governments answer to the people they claim to represent.”

Below, Weinger shares a few thoughts about the paper’s fight to open things up.

How would you describe the current relationship between the Daily Nexus and the ASLC?

While there’s always been a natural tension between the newspaper and the student government, as there should be, this had been by far the most positive relationship during my time at the Nexus.  There had not been any accessibility problems, either at meetings or for interviews, prior to these allegations emerging.  Since the articles regarding open meetings and alleged misconduct on the retreat, however, there is obviously a heightened tension.  Legislative Council members are refusing to speak about the incident, and have issued a resolution asking the administration and campus community to withhold information regarding the accusations against them.  It’s definitely become heated.

On the whole, though, this current issue moves beyond just the Daily Nexus/ASUCSB relationship.  More than 1,900 people joined a Facebook group (started by individuals unassociated with the Nexus or A.S.) demanding accountability from A.S.  People are concerned with how their money is spent and are deeply troubled by the allegations against their elected officials regarding this retreat, as well as the repeated closed meetings.

What has especially impressed you about your staff’s handling of the stories involving the alleged ASLC misconduct?

I have been beyond impressed with my staff’s reporting. The hours they put in, the number of people they contacted and their overall professionalism has proved to me that we are one of the best college newspaper staffs out there.

One of our best moments was our op-ed regarding the necessity for regulating closed sessions of UC student governments.  We’re currently sending it out to numerous California officials and a fellow UC student newspaper, Riverside’s Highlander, also published it.  This story goes beyond just allegations of drinking and misconduct on a retreat.  It also brought to light that UC student governments face no oversight other than their own easily changeable by-laws in regards to closed meetings.  In essence, any ASUC can conduct business as secretly as they like, and that is quite troubling, especially in light of this situation.

What advice do you have for j-students who find themselves in a similar reporting situation?

The most crucial advice I could give is to keep at the story and use every lead available.  If there’s something suspicious going on, such as a secretive closed meeting, do not dismiss it.  Keep pursuing the story.  Be ready to spend a lot of time sifting through documents and making phone calls.  Additionally, there’s going to be a big response to a story like this, so I’d advise students to prepare themselves for what happens post-publication.

2 Responses to “Daily Nexus Fights for Access, Uncovers Possible Misconduct”
  1. This is just an update from the Daily Nexus – thus far, the editorial regarding open meetings has been featured in UC Berkeley’s Daily Californian, UC Riverside’s Highlander and UC San Diego’s Guardian. The Guardian also wrote their own editorial on the issue, Anything Could Fly Behind Closed Council Doors, which can be read here: http://www.ucsdguardian.org/opinion/editorials/anything-could-fly-behind-closed-council-doors/

    We have also mailed the editorial to every UC Regent and various California officials.

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