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You Fool

Well, now I know why Jester chooses to stay anonymous: if I was responsible for such a terribly-written, pompous, overwrought, self-serving blog post, I’d want to keep my name hidden too.

It’s hard to choose which paragraph is more ridiculous than the others, but here’s one of my favourites. I’d suggest reading it out with a refined British accent while picturing yourself with a monocle and cane:

  • Firstly, the wage restructuring was not precipitated by the executive or any other body in the AMS. It was structurally imposed by the province of British Columbia, and hence, has compelled the relevant bodies to adhere to such regulations. Secondly, the wage restructuring being proposed by BAFCOM is satisfying the minimum wage requirements for May 2012, which is higher than that of May 2011. Thirdly, the presentation at Council regarding wage restructuring was marred in great difficulty and confusion, as the plan had been disseminated to Council later than desired, while information regarding exact figures seemed difficult to ascertain.

(I love that phrase, “information regarding exact figures seemed difficult to ascertain.” He uses it a little later on, too: “Although it is not definite as exact numbers are difficult to ascertain, business managers for the AMS are almost certainly being paid more than their student superiors.”)

This was a monumentally stupid post to write. As far as I’m concerned, it’s a smoking gun. A tip for Jester: when you’ve written something, sleep on it overnight and make sure you really want to publish it. At the very least, it will give you the chance to give it a final edit and save us readers the chore of trying to decipher your weird prose.

It’s obvious that Jester’s post was written in response to mine. Now who, one wonders, would be SO concerned about the “misinformation” out there, calling for executive pay raises to be put off until next term, that they felt the need to write such a long, impassioned post arguing against it—and using a wealth of insider information to boot? I know who would, and I know who did, and I can hardly think of anything more inappropriate or pathetic than writing an anonymous blog post calling for a raise for yourself. This post was written by an AMS executive, folks.

More on this later. First I need to talk to some people.

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Getting A Raise

Let’s make sure we’re all clear on this point, because it’s very important, and possibly trumps everything else that will get brought up in this discussion:

Raising the salaries of the AMS employees—particularly executives—so soon after passing a major fee referendum which was sold around the need for more program funding is about the worst thing you could possibly do for optics. It looks absolutely terrible. It makes you look like liars.

Now, I don’t need anyone to leave a comment here explaining the situation to me, because I understand it.

  • Christy Clark decided to raise the minimum wage when she took office on March 14. Nobody knew that was coming.
  • Raising the minimum wage affects a large number of the employees of the AMS who are hired at entry-level positions.
  • If we raise the “bottom tier” salaries, it makes sense to review the salaries of all employees, because otherwise you may get a situation where people in more senior positions are getting paid the same rate as the people they are supposed to be supervising and/or exercising decision-making power over. As with most organizations, the AMS operates on the principle of compensating people according roughly to the amount of responsibility and seniority invested in their position.
  • There is a sense of urgency about this, because the first wage increase comes into effect May 1 and we also need to start our hiring now for the next year (or at least the summer.)

With all that said, again: this is going to look terrible, and it has been further damaged by the way it has been brought to Council.

What’s Happened So Far
(skip this part if you were at the last meeting)

On Wednesday, BAFCOM (Business and Facilities Committee) brought forward a proposal to raise salaries pretty much across the board. In the past, any proposal about changing the compensation of a large number of AMS employees has gone through a months-long consultation process. This one took about two weeks, and the BAFCOM Chair admitted that they didn’t look at any of the past reviews done on work hours and fair pay for AMS employees.

The proposal that came to Council was completely confusing, partly because the document that was emailed out to councillors had pages missing. Certain numbers in the presentation were wrong and were being changed on the fly. Council was also being asked to suspend code to allow the pay changes to come into effect in the middle of the executives’ term, which normally isn’t allowed. At one point, the Speaker of Council threw his hands up in exasperation because he didn’t know what was being voted on–and if he didn’t know, it was likely that nobody did.

It was around this time that the Coordinating Editor of the Ubyssey made the observation: “This is a farce.”

Where Things Are At Now

I should note here that the executives aren’t to blame for this. The proposal did not come from them, and they left the room while it was being discussed by Council. But please, executives, for the love of God: say absolutely nothing about this. Leave it entirely up to Council. Tweets like this and this from the President are extremely ill-advised, especially because many people have heard Jeremy make comments before about the need to raise executive salaries. [Update: Neal Yonson points to further unfortunate evidence in the comment section]

In the end, the proposal was tabled until the next meeting with the hope that it would be better presented to Council and more consultation would be done on it. But an emergency meeting has been called for Monday, so this is coming up again right away.

What Council really needs is to have the wage increase proposal presented to them in a straightforward way, to be informed of all of their options, to have an open discussion about it, and then have a clear vote and make a decision. Unfortunately, I doubt this is going to happen.

Perhaps the biggest reason for concern is the looming appearance of my arch-nemesis, Nick Frank, at Monday’s meeting. For those who don’t know, Frank ran the “No” campaign during the referendum. He is an indefatigable pest. If he doesn’t come, I’ll be very surprised. If he does come, expect this to be an excruciatingly annoying and frustrating meeting as Frank drones on with his endless speeches and trademark allegations of AMS greed and manipulation. But by proposing increased salaries for execs so soon after the referendum, the AMS is playing right into Frank’s hands. If he shows up with his pals, this meeting will be hellish.

So here’s what I think the AMS should do on Monday:

1. In the short term, only raise the wages that are directly affected by the minimum wage increase on May 1.

2. Announce that you are starting a full review process of all the salaries paid by the AMS. Do this review in the proper way, with the full support of the HR Manager, and with due diligence paid to the past consultation processes. It will take some time. Yes, the fee structure will be thrown off for a little while, and some new employees will be hired on a lower pay rate than they will eventually get—but it is the lesser evil to take more time and get this right, as opposed to passing everything in a rushed and haphazard way. And you know what? Nobody ever complains about having their pay increased during their contract.

3. Do not pass any executive pay increases that take effect during this term. That section of code exists for a reason: pay rates for the executives who currently serve Council should not be subjected to a vote by that same Council. These executives took their jobs knowing how much they should expect for their salary. Just have the pay increases take effect at the next AGM, when the new executives take over. It won’t require any suspension of code. If you do this, the controversy will pretty much disappear.

4. Have very clear messaging around all of this: that this proposal came from a human resources working group in BAFCOM, that it is in response to the minimum wage increase, and that allegations of AMS employees lining their pockets after the referendum are unfounded.

I suspect, however, that the AMS is just going to try and push this through on Monday. That will be controversial and messy, and it will be a mistake.

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About That Referendum

So the fee referendum passed, and that’s the only thing that really matters. The bylaw changes were important, but not urgent in the same way. The AMS would have been really, really screwed if the fee question failed.

(I haven’t tired of watching the last 30 seconds of this video, by the way. Especially my epic “woooooooo.”)

Now, is it true that YES side could have been run better? Unquestionably. Is it true that most AMS councilors put a minimum amount of effort into preventing the bankruptcy and/or dismantlement of the society that they are on the board of directors of? Indubitably. And it’s a shame.

But I want to address the comments made in this part of the Ubyssey article:

Nick Frank, who headed the No campaign that opposed the fee restructure and the by-law changes, said that he was disappointed in the way that the AMS framed the discussion around the referendum.

“I honestly felt at the beginning of the election it was completely one sided. Our referendum was completely without discourse [which] requires more than one person. There was one side there was no back and forth discussion, no disagreement,” said Frank.

“I [just] wish I had 387 made more friends.”

Koehn said that she thought the No campaign’s contribution to the dialogue about the referendum was positive.

“I’m glad that someone felt that the AMS needed to not just talk the yes side and provide information and that encouraged us to put information out there,” she said. “In the end it was his right and he made us run a better campaign.”

Right, so a few points here.

1. Frank’s assertion that there was no disagreement on the AMS side of the referendum is batshit crazy, and yet more evidence that he has no clue what he’s talking about. The AMS in fact spent far, far too many hours debating every single aspect of the referendum, constantly moving 25 cents here and there from different fees to try and get the right balance. I remember the meeting where Ben Cappellacci, who was chairing the referendum committee, tried to pull his hair out because he was so frustrated over how often things were being changed. Every time we thought we were agreed on something, that agreement would fall apart at Council.

2. It’s equally crazy for Frank to make it seem as if he was waging an uphill battle. The AMS was asking students to give more money; Frank was telling students to keep their money. Pretty sure the uphill battle is on the AMS side here.

3. Alyssa is unfailingly nice, and I grudgingly admire such people (the EUS president, Amanda, is similar in this respect), but please: don’t say that Frank’s contribution to this referendum was positive. Have you seen his website? You know, the one where he tell us that the AMS, and Jeremy in particular, is backing this referendum because we’re so greedy and power-hungry? That this is about a bigger salary for Jeremy? That our health and dental plan has been endangered? The NO side didn’t just include falsehoods and character assassination; it was entirely founded on them.

It’s this last point that’s most important. And the lame response of so many people on the YES side to Frank’s lies and rhetoric really frustrates me.

A lie can make it halfway around the world while the truth is still tying its shoes, said Mark Twain. And he was right.  I’ve had to deal with this over and over again in my writing on Afghanistan. Someone will tell a bald-faced lie, but they’ll state it confidently enough that unless it’s corrected, it becomes the received wisdom.

Do not let the lie stand unchallenged. Bullshit must be called out as such.

For example, here is what Frank wrote on his website (and was running around campus telling anyone who would listen):

The most notable point is that all the fees are tied in together, so student can’t pick and choose different recipients that they care about. This forces all the groups benefiting from the funds to push for it within their network. In the end,the total fees added up to $19/student, which was considered to be too much to be appealing. So, the AMS decided to transfer $14 out of the Health and Dental plan to these new funds, in order to reduce the fee burden to $5, which it considered to be more appealing to students, although if you are one of the more than ten thousand students that opt out of the insurance plan, you have to pay the full $19.

Now, this shift of funding severely exposes our Health and Dental plan coverage tothe risk of being cut substantially in the future. The AMS says it has negotiated a deal with a new insurance provider to provide coverage at a lower cost. And we are grateful for that, but instead of shifting the savings to vague funds, we want the AMS to continue to put the rest of the fees into the designated reserve fund for Health and Dental Plan – just as it did in the past when it found savings. AMS negotiates the cost of insurance on a yearly basis based on the students’ usage every year. In years when students use a lot of their coverage, the insurance company asks for more payment the following year or asks that AMS to reduce students’ coverage amount. When AMS had a reserve, it protected students’ coverage by paying out of that reserve. But if the new structure passes, it will have to cut students’ coverage in some years.

So, ignoring the poor construction of nearly every sentence, how many fallacies and falsehoods can you spot in there?

In the first paragraph, the clear message is that in order to make the fee increase seem smaller, we slashed the health and dental fund. That is a deliberate misrepresentation of the truth. We received the same coverage for a lower rate because we switched to a local, non-profit provider. We would have made that switch regardless of whether there was a referendum.

In the second paragraph, notice the slimy way in which Frank phrases this: “The AMS says it has negotiated a deal with a new insurance provider to provide coverage at a lower cost.” Well, Frank: have we or haven’t we? Stop playing around with weasel language, and tell us whether we really do have the same coverage or not. Unless, of course, you’ve done fuck-all for research, and have no clue what changes have actually happened to the insurance.

It’s not just that the AMS “says” we’ve moved to a new provider who gives us the same coverage for a lower cost; we have done that. That’s all there is to it. And if you don’t have evidence to prove otherwise, stop making it seem like you do.

And then, most egregiously, Frank tells us that the AMS is no longer transferring money into the reserve fund “as it did in the past when it found savings.” This is just false. The reserve fund is still there, and in fact may have more money put into it this year than it did before.

I haven’t even gotten into the preposterous anti-Jeremy video he made, or his claim that 500 AMS hacks were going to collude and hijack the Annual General Meeting. Even if there were 500 hacks, the notion that they would all get together and agree on something is laughable. Get 5 hacks into a room, and you’ll have 5 different arguments within a few minutes (and those arguments will usually be phrased in the most pompous manner possible.)

In a referendum that absolutely had to be passed to ensure a viable student union for years to come, Nick Frank decided to go around campus lying to students in order to stop it. Why the hell would any AMS councilor, or anyone who cared about the AMS, treat him with kid gloves? I wrote a letter to the Ubyssey that called him out for the smear campaign he was running (you can see it on page 5 here), and in response one councilor told me to “be nice; he’s entitled to his opinion.”

Don’t be nice to people who are going to all kinds of slimy depths to sabotage you. Grow a backbone, and stand up for yourself. Sheesh.

Now, before you interject, let me make this clear. It’s not like I expect everyone to just go along with what the AMS wants. If you want to advise people not to pass the referendum, you can do it in ways that don’t require lies. Neal Yonson basically did that, with his post at UBC Insiders. It carried the guise of being “unbiased”, but was written in a way that clearly cast aspersions on everything the AMS was doing (see my comment underneath his post for an example of this.) But Yonson used clear numbers that readers could understand, and never tried to lie and smear other people to convince you to vote a certain way.

(Yonson’s post was also followed by an excellent post by Laura Rodgers which outlined all of the issues at stake and why it was important to vote yes. If you ever get frustrated by the fact that Yonson hardly ever takes a clear position on anything, you’re not the only one.)

So look, I don’t want to rehash any of the insane arguments that flew around during the referendum. The fee referendum passed, thank God, and now we can all move on.

But the next time the AMS is faced with someone as persistently villainous as Frank was in this campaign, I hope it handles that situation much better than it did this time around. The idea that we need to “respect” the NO campaign, when the NO campaign is full of lies, is ludicrous. It’s suicidal to let someone get away with that crap, and it was almost fatal to this referendum.

-Brian

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The Tables Have Turned

Word on the street is that Ricardo will be running for an executive position in the upcoming Graduate Student Society elections.

Ricardo, if you don’t think that I’m going to be viciously critical and mock everything you do, THINK AGAIN.

Although, then again, you’ll have control over Koerner’s, won’t you? Okay, I’ll be nice.

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The Results

Now that the results are available, I can offer some comments that are a bit more informed and considered.

First of all—and, I might add, exactly as I predicted—we can dispose of the worries over Bijan’s unfair influence. The position he cared most about was President, and his candidate, Michael Moll, got absolutely demolished. If anything, I’d say Jeremy was helped by Bijan’s attacks.

For Bijan to fund 10,000 flyers and those delicious, delicious peppermint patties was both arrogant and wrong. But I never thought for one second that people would vote for the candidates that Bijan told them to, and I don’t know why anyone else thought this. Actually, I do know why: Bijan Derangement Syndrome. Bijan has taken on the traits of an invincible supervillain, and it was fun to postulate about how he was going to dictate the results of this election. The problem is that it never bore any relation to reality.

The most surprising result was in the VP Academic race. I’m not surprised that Matt won; I knew he had a chance, and I’m not sure why Ricardo was so adamant on ranking Matt third. But I am surprised that Matt won by so much. I think the Greek vote actually played a huge part in this election, and remember, we know from that “anonymous” pamphlet who the InterFraternity Council endorsements were:

  • Jeremy for President
  • Elin for VP Finance
  • Matt for VP Academic
  • Mitch for VP External
  • Mike for VP Admin

An anonymous commenter confirmed that this was the IFC endorsement list (though again, we have to take that for what it’s worth because it’s anonymous). The only candidate who didn’t win from this list was Mitch, and that was a close race. And almost everyone agrees that Katherine won through sheer hard work; she campaigned her ass off and got her name out there better than any other candidate. I’m actually a bit disappointed at the lack of boots-on-the-ground campaigning from most of the people running in this election.

Having previously won an election against a Greek candidate (and by the way, I’m not “anti-frat”; it’s just daunting when a candidate has such a big constituency lined up from the beginning), I can attest to the fact that the Greek vote is not a guarantee for anyone. But in this case, it appears to have been the most influential factor in the election. Would that many people really have voted for Matt over Justin otherwise? Again, it’s not the fact that Matt won that surprises me; it’s the margin.

One or two more thoughts.

First….we finished behind Radical Beer Faction in VFM voting. THEY POSTED LIKE TWICE! Damn you Naylor. I choose to blame it on the fact that we were the last name on the ballot. Yeah.

Also, I’m going to keep writing on here whenever I have anything interesting to say. I like doing it. Plus we had over 1,000 page views yesterday. That’s pretty awesome. (I’m also going to keep writing here. And in many other places, no doubt.)

Finally, everyone is deriding the 11% turnout. I have to say, I’m always kind of amazed that over 5,000 people vote in this election. Think about how many people that is. It’s a lot. I always assume that the only ones paying attention are the 100 or so hacks who are on AMS Council or one of the closely affiliated groups. So in that sense, it makes me happy that such a large number of people take the time to vote. Yeah, 11% is not a great turnout, but it’s not terrible either.

If you feel like you’re going to miss all the drama and insanity of the election, be sure to come to the Council meeting on Wednesday night. That’s going to be bananas in so many ways.

In the meantime, I guess I better start doing my homework again.

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Three Thoughts

  • In some ways surprised, in some ways relieved that no candidates were disqualified today and there doesn’t seem to be any long-lasting consequences other than bruised egos
  • Very surprised that Justin Yang lost for VP Academic, though as I’ve said all along, I think Matt will do fine in the position.
  • Get ready for Council meeting on Wednesday. Shit is going down.

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Slate Or No Slate?

I have a lot of sympathy for the Ubyssey’s call for holding a new election. This one is too compromised in too many ways, unfortunately. What a shitshow.

A second student, Roshak Momtahen, has now come forward and spoken on the record.

One question I have, and it will depend on what information comes forward in the next day or two, is what happens to the candidates on Bijan’s promotional materials. Figuring out who will run for what position is one thing, as I’ve said before; privately printing off 10,000 flyers and 7,200 mints (?!) is another.

The problem, as I see it right now, is two-fold:

  1. There are no hard and fast rules around third-party advertising
  2. Some candidates may have had nothing to do with this, and don’t deserve to be punished

I know this for certain: some of the candidates on Bijan’s flyers were happy to be on there, and some weren’t. I’ve talked to at least three who are really pissed off at having been caught up in this. But as the Ubyssey editorial said, they didn’t step forward publicly with these complaints—and that is going to hurt them. I can sympathize with not wanting to discourage any support you’re getting, but with all the sordid details coming out, the candidates on those flyers are going to regret having stayed silent.

I don’t know enough about the slating rules to know what the ruling on them will be. The idea that you can be an “unintentional slate” is problematic, to say the least. I expect I’ll be learning more about these rules in the next couple days than I’ve ever cared to know.

For the most part, I’m just furious at Bijan for creating this goddamn mess. I must focus to keep myself from falling into Bijan Derangement Syndrome.

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