Staff reporter Maggie Fried opened last week’s front page accusing serving President Rob Sobelman and Vice President Jenny Dorland of abusing power, entrusted in their elected positions during the just concluded elections. It was an article riddled with assumptions and unproven allegations; it sparked more controversy than the one it sought to report. Much needs to be said.
Reporter Fried started the piece by accusing the presidency of ‘abuse of power’ by aiding the candidacy of Dave Kusnetz and Melissa Madaio, inferring from the email sent by candidate Ann Redpath. Fried backs up her claim in quoting the Constitution, which states that the serving President and Vice President cannot advocate on behalf of but can participate in one of election campaigns, outside their official capacities. The flaw in her claim is apparent when it was seen (and reported by Fried herself) that during the course of the elections President Sobelman was directly communicating with Parliamentarian Matt Wisnieff, consulting on bylaw provisions at each step to check that the former was not in any breach of the rules. It is evident that the Parliamentarian and the Election Commissioners were perfectly aware that Sobelman was indirectly participating in the campaign of Dave and Melissa. The question of any unconstitutional action by Sobelman or Dorland is baseless since the President or Vice-President at no point advocated for the eventual winning candidates in their official function, but only participated openly and in compliance with the stipulated rules.
The question that follows is whether the Presidency ought to be involved at any level with a campaign in the first place. Fried again quotes Redpath in stating that there is a precedent whereby past Presidents have not participated in campaigns. Note that this is only a precedent and not a stipulated law. What Fried’s article fails to realize is that the presidency in itself is a political position. Only the election officials – the Commissioners and the Parliamentarian – are required to remain neutral. It can be only fair for Sobelman to have participated in the election campaigning – not to endorse any ticket necessarily, but to oversee the proper functioning of the elections outside his official role. Worth noting here is that these elections were held under a Constitution which the current President himself helped to draft. Any political system, for its own benefit, must allow for the Presidency to use reasonable discretion, whether to participate in the campaign or resolve a violations appeal case.
This raises the issue of Fried’s allegation of Sobelman’s mishandling of the appeals process (refer to article on April 10). Once more, the point that Fried missed is that Sobelman’s actions to convene an emergency meeting were only to expedite the process of resolving a serious case, complicated already given the extremely short campaigning period of two weeks. It can again be rightly expected of the serving President to step in and address any immediate concerns of the electoral candidates. This claim was validated when Sobelman was indisputably in contact with Wisnieff over the course of dealing with the appeals procedure. Sobelman’s action was not meant to question the decision of the Commissioners – it is within the role of the Presidency to accommodate solving any disputes during such a critical event as the elections in the short time available. What is undeniable is that the lines of communication have always been open and any concerns of the Election Commissioners could have been raised immediately to Wisnieff and/or Sobelman. Regardless, the Commissioners did go on to impose violation penalties to the ticket of Dave and Melissa, despite this ‘alleged intervention’ of the Presidency. Had Sobelman’s interference actually infringed upon the jurisdiction of the Commissioners, Dave and Melissa should not have ended up with the greater voter points lost in penalties at the end of elections. The burden here lies with the Commissioners, Parliamentarian and/or the alleging candidates to show that Sobelman was not accommodating here, but rather somehow manipulating the process. The allegation of their Commissioner’s ‘decisions being questioned’ and ‘manipulation’ is thus only assumed but not proven.