FAMU Trustees Authorize Appeal Of SGA Election Ruling; Communication Concerns Remain

Mar 29, 2016

A re-vote at Florida A&M University’s law school is on hold after university officials appealed a lower court ruling Monday. The fight is over the contested outcome of the student body president election. Justin Bruno won the race but his challenger appealed.  FAMU trustees met via conference call Tuesday to discuss the issue and others that have recently popped up at the school.

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FAMU’s student-run Supreme Court ordered a new election and the FAMU administration upheld that move. But Bruno took his case to a Leon County court, and a judge recently ruled the new election applied only to the law school. Tuesday, FAMU Trustees voted 7 to 5 to go forward with an appeal of that decision. New trustee Thomas Dortch says it’s a move to uphold students’ rights in electing their representatives, and preserve the ruling by the student court.

“It’s not about us interfering and saying the students were right or wrong," he said. "I think that needs to be done and explained that this is a far greater issue than just that. It’s about the judge’s action and not material to what the students did.”

Trustee and Faculty Senate President Bettye Grable questioned whether the school would be taking the same measures if Bruno, now SGA Vice President, had lost.

"That's what concerns me the most. I heard the attorney suggest this was about the students. My vote wasn't about Mr. Bruno independently. It was about what if it were in the reverse? And that concerns me greatly. What would have been the response?"

Bruno has said he believes the challenges to his win are because President Elmira Mangum does not view him as an ally. He's also said his opponents campaign was run by an employee in the President's office.

At stake is the SGA leadership race is a seat on FAMU's Board of Trustees. In Florida, public university SGA President's serve as voting board members.  FAMU trustees have a major decision to make soon--on or before June 30th, they'll have to decide whether to renew President Elmira Mangum's employment contract.

Meanwhile, some board members continue to express frustration at what they see as a lack of communication on important moves from the Mangum administration, such as the contested SGA election, and recent demotion of now-former Chief Financial Officer Dale Cassidy.

“We have a far more fundamental problem with our communications transparency and accountability. And I do hope we can begin today on improving that," said recent board appointee Craig Reed.

Trustees gave Mangum a poor performance review last Summer, and in remarks said it was partly due to a lack of communication on key decisions like the transfer of fiscal authority of the FAMU-Florida State College of Engineering, to FSU. During Tuesday's conference call, Trustee Nicole Washington also expressed concerns about how members were notified about the court case and appeal.

"I understand this was an emergency meeting but the ability for us to make informed decisions really depends on the staff briefing us and making sure we have the best information. That also bears on our public face and our ability to speak publicly...on issues pertaining to the university."

Board Chairman Cleve Warren says he can't recall a time since he's been on the board that communication hasn't been an issue.

FAMU is not the only public university with an SGA election fight. The University of Central Florida is facing a lawsuit over its SGA race.