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Debate recap: SGA presidential candidates discuss parking, safety

For All Cougars presidential candidate Diego Arriaga (left) and Students Unite candidate Cody Szell (right). | Raphael Fernandez/The Cougar

As the Student Government Association election approaches its climax, the presidential candidates outlined their visions for the University’s future during Monday’s presidential debate.

At the debate, which was moderated by representatives from The Cougar, candidates Diego Arriaga representing For All Cougars and Cody Szell representing Students Unite faced off over key issues affecting students.

Arriaga’s primary concerns were centered around tackling the parking crisis and prioritizing campus safety. Szell, on the other hand, focused on campus affordability, academic success and community building. 

Arriaga criticized the current administration’s perceived inaction reported by The Cougar in a recent article.

“I can promote campus impact, have more students engaged in student government and bring a safer campus,” Arriaga said. “I believe the current administration and Students Unite failed to do that.”

Szell refuted claims that the platform mirrors previous administrations, highlighting novel perspectives brought by the large number of new faces within the party.

“I’m offended that you would say that our platform is the same as last year, when it is not,” Szell said. “We have a new drive, energy and initiatives to tackle with fresh faces.” 

Szell challenged the specificity of For All Cougars’ goals, particularly regarding parking affordability. A senator in the current administration, he highlighted their accomplishments.

“They have not laid out any game plans on how they plan to tackle parking affordability,” Szell said. “In the 60th administration, we were able to fill every seat in the Transportation and Parking Advisory Committee and solve the Sugar Land Shuttle crisis.” 

Arriaga countered by defending the specificity of For All Cougar’s platform, stating that he plans to reevaluate student fees to reduce the price of parking. 

The Student Fees and Advisory Committee, of which five student members are appointed by SGA, makes recommendations for student service fee allocation. However, recently SFAC has run into roadblocks in getting their recommendations approved. Currently, Parking and Transportation Services is an auxiliary service that is not allotted student fees. 

“It’s an interesting idea to see if you can fund parking through student fees, but I don’t think you have done the math,” Szell said. “By taking it out of student fees you would have to take it away from Student Services and you would be charging students that don’t park on campus.”

Arriaga elaborated on his plans to increase campus safety by increasing relations with the University of Houston Police Department.

“We should not simply be reacting to crimes committed, but working with officers to see where they are happening and bringing more officers out there to protect the students,” Arriaga said.

The candidates debated strategies for addressing structural issues within the administration, with Szell addressing existing issues within the current administration. 

One of the issues brought to attention was how the 60th administration has struggled to maintain active members and fill large amounts of vacancies.

“It can be difficult to organize a massive body of students, so I want to create incentives like offering volunteer hours to entice further attendance,” Szell said. “There are definitely issues with the current administration, and I hope to address them in mine.”

The candidates further discussed their plans for addressing campus challenges, including career fair expansion. 

“We need to expand a program to all colleges to help students have a surefire job when they get out of college, especially because this is an issue I see many struggle with,” Arriaga said.

As the debate concluded, both candidates underscored their commitment to amplifying student voices and addressing pressing issues facing the University community.

Voting will kick off on Feb. 26 and continue until Feb. 29, providing students with the opportunity to cast their votes via Get Involved.

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