MSA unveils new comm. budget, plan

The budget, including a director of comm. position, was not approved.

by Cali Owings

Minnesota Student Association President Sarah Shook unveiled a controversial new communication strategy during the first forum of the year Tuesday night.
Shook wants to appoint a director of strategic communications to handle public relations for the organization and allocate the department funding for advertising and audiovisual equipment as well as a stipend for the director.
At the center of it all is the proposed strategic communications director for MSA, Dan Garon, a newcomer who has only been to one forum.
While MSA bylaws allow the president to appoint new positions, funding must be approved through forum.
However, during budget approval, several MSA representatives had issues with the amount of funding allocated to the new programs.
Sean Niemic, president of the Students for a Conservative Voice student group, debated against the $7,200 in communications expenses, calling it “the Dan Garon slush-fund.”
Of the communications budget, $2,700 was already in place for Internet, phone service and mailing supplies.
The budget was not approved because there were not enough representatives present to vote. They will attempt to resolve budget issues Sept. 21 at the next forum.
Garon, a management information systems senior, said he considers himself a computer geek, political activist and entrepreneur.
Between his schoolwork and dedication to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Garon also runs Press Advance, a public relations business for technology companies, out of an office in Dinkytown.
“I never had any intention of doing this,” he said, until MSA President Sarah Shook convinced him that a new communications strategy was critical to the success of MSA.
Garon said their new communication strategy will build more credibility for student government.
“The outside world has to trust that we are the voice of the students,” he said.
Shook said she wanted Garon for the position because of his success running his own company, despite not having prior MSA experience.
However, Garon also served as president of the Board of Directors for University Student Legal Services.
“Even though he wasn’t involved directly with MSA, I think that leadership experience translates into MSA,” Shook said.
As an outsider, Garon said he was objective in evaluating MSA’s strengths and weaknesses and wasn’t afraid to make changes.
“There’s this culture in student government that says, ‘We do things this way because that’s the way it’s always been done,’” he said.
Already working Whether MSA votes to allocate money for Garon’s position, the newcomer has already made improvements to the website with links to press releases about MSA initiatives and information about their committees. MSA’s online presence has changed significantly from last year.
Like most public relations professionals, Garon is also planning to reach out to students through social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, but that’s not enough for him.
He said he wants to stream forum meetings live online for students who can’t make it during their usual 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. timeslot.
“It’s going to be like Minnesota-SPAN,” Garon said.
As far as he is aware, it has never been done by another student government.
Another new initiative is the Group Interactive Network system, an online communication platform for MSA and student groups. MSA has currently invited 40 student leaders to begin using the system.
Students will be able to post discussions, promote events and submit concerns to MSA.
Shook got the idea from her experience using a similar online community as a member of the Delta Gamma sorority.
She said she will also use the GIN system as an advisory board by posting questions and receiving feedback within 24 to 48 hours.
“It’s going to be a great tool for representing students,” she said.
Shook will present these new initiatives to students Sunday at the Campus Leadership Reception, an invitation-only banquet for student leaders.
While some MSA leaders question the value of Garon’s potential position, the Associated Students of Madison, the student government at the University of Wisconsin, added a similar department last year.
Since then, the role of the department has grown, Marie Puissant, ASM press office director, said.
The ASM press office is equally responsible for promoting ASM in the media and facilitating communication between student government and the students, said Puissant.
Currently, the ASM press office consists of a director and two assistants who write press releases, promote committee initiatives and plan events, she said. In addition, the office will be expanding to include intern positions this year.
“Student government isn’t just for political science majors,” she said. “There are opportunities for other students, too.”