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Brown, Braun embrace year ahead

Kaitlynn Riely | Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Student body president Liz Brown and vice president Maris Braun have had a busy last few weeks – and it’s only going to get busier.

Since the end of July, Brown and Braun have been voicing concerns and negotiating compromises regarding an ordinance proposed by the South Bend Common Council to control large parties off campus.

“I came back, ready to go, maybe because we already had the ordinance moving forward,” Brown said. “But I’m totally ready for the year.”

At last week’s Student Senate meeting, the first of the year, she announced two new initiatives – a student guest meal exchange program and the ability to use Domer Dollars in the Stadium and the Joyce Center.

“The great thing about this was that we set the tone from the first Senate meeting, not only for Maris and [chief executive assistant] Sheena [Plamoottil] and I, but also for our senators and all our committees,” Brown said. “They all know that we can accomplish a lot, and hopefully we are setting the bar high, and we won’t disappoint.”

Brown hopes that momentum will last.

“We’ve set some high standards for ourselves from the beginning, but especially in the last couple weeks,” she said.

Brown and Braun began researching and making phone calls after they heard about the proposed ordinance, even as they completed summer internships. The ordinance caused concern among students, especially those living off campus, because it would require residents of boarding houses – defined as residences in which two or more unrelated people live – to file a permit with the city 10 days before hosting a gathering at which more than 25 people would have access to alcohol.

Brown said her goal with the ordinance has been to eliminate the permit registration process for parties. At the Senate meeting last Wednesday and in a letter to the editor published in The Observer, she cautioned students to behave respectfully off campus so the Common Council could not use rowdy student partying as an impetus to move the ordinance forward.

After the first weekend of the semester passed without any major disturbances, Brown said she is confident she will achieve her goal. She also wants to develop a community relations coalition so city, University and student representatives can discuss problems as they arise.

But reaching this point, Braun said, has required a “month of solid work.”

Brown agreed.

“We were kind of lucky it happened before school started…,” she said. “This is what we were able to focus on prior to coming back to school. It was definitely a joint effort that took up a lot of our time.”

Brown said their quick response to the proposed ordinance sent a clear message that student government can accomplish big things.

“I saw a lot of comments [posted on ndnation.com and facebook.com regarding the proposed ordinance], like ‘don’t rely on student government, you have to take matters into your own hands,'” Brown said. “It was great to be able to respond to that – not directly, with any sort of comments, but to be able to use our actions to say well, actually, you can depend on us to get some stuff done for you. Obviously we have our limits, but there are definitely things that we can accomplish.”

Reaction to the acceptance of Domer Dollars in the Stadium and the guest exchange meal program in the dining halls has been positive, Braun said. During the Georgia Tech game last weekend, she said she overheard students who had forgotten cash and were pleased to remember they could use Domer Dollars to purchase drinks and food at the stadium.

Now that the school year has started, Brown and Braun will have to balance their class schedules and personal lives with the demands of their student government jobs. They sat down with The Observer Tuesday in the student government office on the second floor of LaFortune, in front of a whiteboard that has been transformed into a calendar for the month. Nearly every day of September is filled with meeting times related to a student government issue.

Brown and Braun said they are ready to tackle the initiatives they have planned, plus anything else that might come up.

“Once you kind of get into the groove of things, and learn how things run, then it’s not overwhelming,” Braun said. “It’s just a lot of fun … that’s what makes it enjoyable, and that’s what makes it fun to work on initiatives, because we’ve got a great office environment.”

Brown’s experience as chief executive assistant last year, she said, has helped her administration accomplish significant goals – and respond to unforeseen issues – since she and Braun took office April 1.

“I knew what kind of avenues to take when certain problems arise or when certain initiatives need to be pursued,” she said.

One avenue she has used, especially when working on the proposed ordinance, has been Vice President for Student Affairs Father Mark Poorman, Brown said. She said she and Poorman have been in regular communication regarding the steps the University should take regarding the ordinance.

The ordinance, and the larger topic of community relations, will be a major focus for student government this year, Braun said. But the pair will also focus on improving student life and achieving its platform goals.

Brown said her Senate committees have already begun to tackle their initiatives for the year. The launch of the student government Web site – tentatively scheduled for sometime in the next two weeks – will serve as an online forum to answer student needs, Braun said.