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Executive extremity: SGA Senate butt heads for hours while appointing new members

Members of the Senate crowd Speaker Sebastian Ballesteros and SGA President Diego Arriaga to discuss voting tactics.| Raphael Fernandez/The Cougar

In a session that lasted five hours, Wednesday’s Student Government Association senate meeting was shadowed by friction among senate members while trying to appoint committee chairs and executives of the cabinet. 

Members were visibly frustrated with conflicting parties prolonged rounds of questioning, and a lack of consensus on how to vote for appointing new members that occasionally caused executives to lose control of the Senate.

Chief of staff

A meeting intended to appoint legislative and executive branch members, including the Chief of Staff, Directors of External Affairs, Public Relations, Multicultural Affairs and Outreach, proceeded relatively smoothly until the vote for the sole candidate for Chief of Staff, Daniela Gonzalez. 

Senate members questioned why Gonzalez was the only candidate nominated despite a total of six candidates and three interviews conducted by SGA President Diego Arriaga.

Gonzalez had not yet been officially appointed as Chief of Staff by the Senate. However, she had access to emails and assumed the roles and duties throughout the first three weeks of Arriaga’s tenure, which caused some uncertainty in the Senate. 

She was even accused of having access to applications for the position while being an applicant herself for the role of Chief of Staff as well as participating throughout each interview with Arriaga, further concerning impartiality within the Executive Branch.

“I was there for support without getting involved in any decision making, without having any power and without doing any direct tasks that correspond to decision-making for the president and the vice president positions,” Gonzalez said in her defense. 

Additionally, if she was in right to assume the role, senators took issue with her having gone three weeks without providing an executive agenda to the Senate, while the legislative branch successfully submitted theirs. 

Despite the back and forth between members of the Senate and after three rounds of questioning and an unmoderated discussion, Gonzalez was eventually appointed to the position.  

“Regardless of her work ethic, there were some concerns from what happened in the previous weeks,” said newly elected Committee Chair for Graduate and Professional students Jesus Nieto.  “Procedures weren’t done correctly. Also, there was a statement said by an executive that if she didn’t get approved, they would continue to ram her through, and to me, that sounds biased.”

Students Voicing Opinions 

The meeting began with students wishing to address the Senate, those included former Election Commissioner Cessabella Astraquillo.

Astraquillo’s relationship with President Arriaga has received public scrutiny among peers and The Cougar– who wrote an opinion article, which received mixed reviews on social media, about the conflict of interest Astraquillo and Arriaga’s relationship could be for spurring just days after the election. 

She confronted senate members’ involvement in her personal demise and emphasized betrayal among members of the Senate and the press for defaming her character.

“You all continue to drag my name and the name of people I care about through the mud for your own social game,” Astraquillo said.  “In doing so, you have not only subjected me and those close to me to the court of social opinion but also that court of public opinion.”

“You take the words of someone who doesn’t even know my biggest fear and force my character not to be defined by what I have done for you. But by someone else’s rotten perception in me,” she said. 

She additionally criticized the Senate, highlighting the significant internal division and minimal progress achieved in the three weeks since assuming office, aside from her social execution. 

“You all continue to hold party lines that should have been resolved the moment the election was concluded,” Astraquillo said. “You can choose to either continue destroying it or set your egos aside and work together to solve the problems you created yourselves.”

Newly elected Committee Chair for Administration and Finance and Speaker Pro-Tempore Anahi Ortega defended allegations of the lack of progress by referencing ongoing efforts including the partnership with Fort Bend County Transit System and the Sugar Land shuttle service to improve transit options spearheaded by Ortega and the Transportation and Parking Advisory Committee. 

Nieto also dismissed claims of minimal progress and cited the exposure as a comprehensive investigation for possible internal conflicts, however, hopes the Senate will redirect the focus in future meetings, he said.

“I don’t think we’ve been wasting time in the Senate,” Nieto said. “We have been doing our duty as senators to be legislators and to thoroughly investigate and discuss things that are happening internally in our government.”

Due to numerous rounds of questioning and a lack of consensus that caused the meeting to reach its limit, the Senate was forced to table further appointments and resolutions despite the meeting lasting until midnight hours. 

The Senate will address unresolved items from Wednesday’s meeting, including the resolutions Divest in Death — a coalition advocating divestment from companies associated with the genocide of Palestinians — and Condemning Executive Order No. GA-44, protecting students’ free speech during campus protests. Additionally, appointments for executive positions like Director of Multicultural Affairs and Director of Outreach will be appointed during the next senate meeting.

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