Fees chairman criticized for secret meeting

Tom Ford

Student Services Fees Committee Chairman Tim Lee has been criticized recently for holding a secret meeting with fiscally conservative committee members about Coffman Union funding.

Other committee members were alerted about the meeting when Lee inadvertently sent a copy of the invitation to a committee member he didn’t intend to contact. The member subsequently forwarded the e-mail to the entire committee.

At a full Student Services Fees Committee meeting Jan. 26, members denounced Lee’s behind-the-scenes planning.

Lee, former chairman of Students Against Fees Excess and president of the Campus Libertarians, has been an opponent of high levels of student funding for the Coffman Union project.

Lee organized a Jan. 23 meeting with four other committee members. They primarily discussed the fees request of the Twin Cities Student Unions, which is seeking increased funding to pay the bond on Coffman Union renovations, said committee member and meeting participant Marty Andrade.

Lee wanted to raise his opposition to the Coffman request with members he thought would be sympathetic to his concerns, Andrade said.

“Lee had some problems with Coffman Union, and he was basically out to bitch,” Andrade said.

Kristen Moore, president of the TCSU Board of Governors, said she found out about the private meeting through rumors a few days before the group’s fees request presentation Saturday.

While she said she was unsure whether the meeting affected committee members Saturday, Moore said it’s unfair for the TSCU presenters who spent weeks preparing their material and remarks.

“If there’s some outside factor affecting the committee’s decision, we need to get to the bottom of it,” Moore said.

In an e-mailed statement, Lee said the committee has discussed the incident and reached a consensus that “calling a private meeting in this manner was inappropriate for a member of the fees committee and especially so for the committee chairman.”

Lee said the committee agreed all members would be informed of and invited to future meetings.

He also said he has never hidden his fiscally conservative views.

Despite those opinions, Lee said, he remains committed to ensuring an open and fair process for all student groups.

But Moore said rules or
procedures regarding such incidents must be changed.

“Committee members need to base their decisions on what’s best for fees-paying students and not their own interests,” she said.

Although Moore said TSCU will first try to resolve this issue with the committee itself, she didn’t rule out raising concerns to University administration.

Andrade said the committee determined the meeting didn’t violate any specific rules. But he said the incident will likely stimulate bylaw amendments after the fees process concludes.

While the group took no action, fees committee adviser Mary Amundson said several members were vocal in criticism.

“Some members were very concerned about the credibility of the process and the appearance of collusion,” Amundson said.

The committee did discuss removing members, which would require a two-thirds vote, she said.

But she said the committee, after expressing concern and voicing expectations, worked through the issue and decided to continue.

“I’m fully convinced these students can do it,” Amundson said.

Member Jason Vorbeck said he examined the e-mail and listened to the information Lee provided to the committee, and he said the committee will still be able to function without significant viewpoint conflicts.

TCSU is seeking more than $3.7 million this year to continue paying back the bonds that funded union renovations in the 1970s and bankroll the current project.

Last year, TCSU was awarded approximately $3 million by the fees committee for the same purpose.

Three years ago, the fees committee approved a four-year plan to phase in Coffman Union bond repayment, increasing student fees each year since 1999.

Amundson said the committee has not notified any TCSU representatives of Lee’s secret meeting.

“The members were hoping to deal with it in the confines of the committee,” she said.