Impeachment Controversy in the Senate

Peter Nelson

Despite a resolution calling for his resignation, Student Government Association (SGA) Vice-President senior Preston Burnes intends to remain in his office until the end of the academic year.

“After a good amount of consideration, discussion with friends and advisers and personal reflection, I have decided it would not further the goals of SGA to heed this call to resign my post as vice-president,” Burnes said in a letter to the Colgate community appearing in the commentary section.

Burnes was the subject of a special Senate session at the end of the fall 2005 term, called by former SGA Liaison to Student Groups sophomore Rob Sobelman. Sobelman alleged that Burnes had abused his powers as vice-president by influencing nominations to the SGA Executive Board, a group responsible for ensuring the effective operation of the SGA.

In a statement before the Senate late last semester, Sobelman described the situation that haderoded his confidence in Burnes. Sobelman had nominated sophomore Alicia Gleason to serve in his stead as liaison in the spring 2006 term because he is studying off-campus in Washington, D.C. After her nomination, Gleason met with Burnes and SGA President senior Amy Dudley to discuss the position and her qualifications. According to Sobelman, Dudley and Burnes later advised him that they would prefer SGA Elections Commissioner senior Rodney Mason as the nominee for liaison and that they would allow Gleason the position of corresponding secretary instead. This information came to Sobelman, he said, at a Monday night Executive Board meeting that consequently turned turbulent.

Sobelman alleged that Dudley and Burnes had not given fair consideration to Gleason as a nominee, citing several e-mails from Burnes in which the vice-president emphatically stated that he would prefer Mason. At one point in the e-mails, Burnes implied that Dudley would veto any nominee other than Mason, stating that he was laying down these guidelines with Dudley’s knowledge. Dudley later denied knowledge of that particular e-mail.

After being nominated by Sobelman last semester at the last regularly scheduled SGA meeting, Mason was confirmed as liaison and Gleason approved as corresponding secretary.

Sobelman took the debate and the behind-the-scenes disagreements over Gleason’s nomination as evidence of deep problems within SGA leadership. In his statement before the Senate, he claimed that Burnes had ignored his constitutional duty and therefore deserved to be impeached.

“[Burnes’ alleged abuse of power] undermines everyone’s ability to do their jobs,” Sobelman said. “If there is no accountability and no one follows the constitution then there is no point of having one.”

Sobelman asserted that he considered Burnes’ behavior regarding Gleason’s nomination “coercion.”

Burnes responded to Sobelman’s allegations systematically, denying that he had ignored Gleason’s qualifications and responding to Sobelman’s charges of cronyism and pursuance of personal agenda.

“[Our choice of Mason for Liaison] simply reflected that we needed Rodney [on the Executive Board],” Burnes said.

Burnes responded to Sobelman’s claim that Burnes and Dudley would veto every nominee for Liaison except Mason.

“Should I have insinuated Amy would veto every nominee? No,” he said. “While I made some mistakes in this process, Rodney was a much more qualified Liaison and at no point was [Sobelman’s] right to make a nomination rejected.”

“I would be impressed if anyone could make a good case against [Mason] based on his qualifications,” Burnes said.

Burnes ended his response by reaffirming his investment in the Colgate community.

“It has been a tough semester in Senate, but I have never had anything but the best interests of the study body in mind,” he said. “I hope I can come back from [this] to serve all of you better.”

Following these statements, SGA Parliamentarian senior Drew Lane opened the floor for procedural questions, which quickly devolved into heated debate. At one point, East Hall Senator first-year Veronica Hanus urged Dudley to recuse herself from the argument. Others had questions regarding constitutional provisions for the nomination progress.

Following the questioning period, the public was ordered to leave the room as Senate deliberation commenced. Ultimately, the motion to impeach Burnes failed in the Senate, but a resolution asking him to resign passed by one vote.

After this vote, Burnes spoke with colleagues and decided to remain in his position.