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New Council debuts

Amanda Michaels | Monday, November 3, 2003

Rising out of fierce debate and born from the partial merging of the Executive Cabinet and Student Senate, the Council of Representatives, as it is unofficially called, meets for the first time tonight under the watchful eyes of both its proponents and detractors, who are waiting to see whether the new body will spark real changes to Notre Dame’s student government.

“Right now, there seems to be the impression that the student body has an inefficient, figurehead government,” said Drew Sandstrum, who joins Dan Zenker, Amy Chambers and Claire Berezowitz as the four senators chosen to sit on the new Council. “The Council of Representatives, I’m hoping, will dispel that image,” he said.

Student government’s lack of action and efficiency has been a long-time concern and was considered last year by Senate’s Oversight Committee, but deemed “too large of a problem” to be solved by that particular group, said Elliot Poindexter, a former senator who is now president of the judicial committee. The creation of the Council signals the first major, collective step toward the improvement of the current system.

“I think that it’s a good intermediate step, and it will help us determine whether we need a more drastic change,” said Sandstrum.

Including all members of the Executive Cabinet and four student senators, the Council of Representatives was granted the authority to amend the constitution and approve the budget, powers formerly held by Senate.

“Right now we’re just starting with the constitutional changes that set up this new, enhanced Executive Cabinet, but we will eventually totally redo the student government,” said student body president Pat Hallahan.

Chambers, who argued against the resolution until its approval, said, “My reservations were that we were giving the budgetary and constitutional powers to the Council of Representatives, a body that wasn’t even formed yet.”

Chambers said she felt that the way the proposal was drafted and passed – in the Executive Cabinet and the Senate independently – contradicted its ultimate goal of unity and communication between the two groups.

“What I wanted was this: to get everyone at the same table first. If the result of this resolution is so great, it seems like we should utilize that group to arrive at the necessary changes,” she said.

Other debate surrounding the transfer of powers to the Council questioned the ability of the non-elected heads of organizations, now sitting on the Executive Cabinet, to remain unbiased when approving budgetary expenditures.

“I believe that there was a purpose why the power of budget approval was granted specifically to the Senate,” said former senator and former residence life committee chairman Kevin Conley. “[Many members of the Executive Cabinet] have a big stake in the allotments. Can we expect these individuals to completely set aside their allegiances and make a fair determination as to what is best for the student body?”

Despite these reservations, many look to the Council to bring about major changes to student government. Though its agenda will not be mapped out until today’s meeting, members said they hope it will move plans that were previously stalled in the gap between Senate and the Executive Cabinet forward.

“We hope to address RA training, the TCE publication and other issues. We just want to make sure that this group stays the best representation of the students, and we hope in the future it can be a productive body,” said Zenker.

Members will also have to approve a new name for the body, as it is still officially called the Executive Cabinet.

Hallahan, who will only oversee the progress of the Council his early graduation in December, said “We took the best first step together on creating this new committee together and laid a foundation for what student government is going to look like. The ultimate goal is finding ways to eliminate overlap and make the whole system more efficient.”