UCF SGA candidates contest transparency, lobbying
During Thursday night's debate, Student Government Association presidential candidates contested over transparency, lobbying for students' safety and what their campaigns can offer to campus as a whole.
Video: SGA presidential debate Video By Caroline Glenn, Central Florida Future
Presidential candidates Brian Zagrocki, Cait Zona and Richard Stein each astutely presented their platform points, and each ticket promised to fulfill its goals in a one-year term if elected. While the platforms overlapped with upholding certain priorities, such as campus safety, the duties of the president and vice president, and streamlining funding processes, some topics generated more discussion than others.
Transparency and accountability
Maintaining conspicuous leadership was a topic that induced much discussion among the candidates.
Zagrocki said his goal is to provide information on SGA's services and initiatives more fully through its website, along with allowing students to submit feedback to SGA to "hold it accountable."
Stein presented a similar strain of thought, saying that aside from students, each of the three branches — judicial, executive and legislative — should hold each other accountable.
"The idea of these three branches is a power of checks," he said. His running mate, Mo Barhamje, added that he thinks the SGA website is one of "the biggest problems" — that it needs to be more organized and revamped to include records more clearly.
He added when he's visited the site in the past, it "annoyed the hell out of" him.
While Zona, who currently serves as SGA Speaker of the Senate, said she is already accustomed to receiving and answering a multitude of questions and public records requests. She added that she is willing to share what goes on "behind the scenes" with SGA because she is already acquainted with addressing requests. Her running mate Jarell Jones said his communications studies will help with sustaining transparency and bridging gaps between students and departments on campus.
"What we do in this one year needs to go beyond just one year," Zona said.
Lobbying for students' rights and safety
"We want to make sure the things that we are promised by the government are addressed," Zona said. The candidate defended her ticket's potential by shedding light on her studies, saying that being a political science major will inform her ability to lobby for students' rights and safety, such as by taking Senate resolutions back to Tallahassee to lobby on behalf of them. She also stated her goals of pushing for Bright Futures summer scholarship coverage and fighting against the recently introduced excess credit hour surcharge.
Jones added that during the time when Zona may be remote from campus while out of town, he ensured that he can take charge of what needs to be fulfilled back at UCF.
I know I'll be making sure that our Cabinet and the UCF community is surviving and thriving while Zona is lobbying at the state level, he said.
Lobbying for no increase of tuition is one of Zagrocki's main platform points, and along with Zona, the candidate said he would also like to work more closely with the Orange County Sheriff's Office to improve safety measures at off-campus apartments.
Zagrocki also mentioned that he thinks Orange County crime rates are somewhat improving, but according to Orange County documents obtained by the Future, crime rose 75 percent in the area surrounding the UCF main campus from 2013 to 2014.
Stein directly questioned Cait & Jarell's campaign, asking if they have addressed safety while in their current SGA positions. Zona rebutted, "I'm very vocal about my opinions, if you have worked with me in the past you can attest to that."
While she cannot cast votes in Senate due to her position as the speaker, she said in the past she has spoken up for safety measures. Though the plan for it was determined to be unfeasible, a pedestrian bridge near UCF was something for which Zona claimed she heavily advocated.
Along with advocating for lucid operations and pressing for students' rights, financial management was a sought-after topic in the night's debate.
Stein was ardent about transforming current SGA financial management, and said that while working at CITI Group off campus, he "learned about timeline projections" — something he said SGA lacks, along with responsibility.
"The SGA president has the ability to re-allocate funds, which doesn't make sense to me," Stein said, adding that registered student organizations have told him that they "have to fight for every nickel and dime" for funding from SGA. He added that if a "CEO of a company" had to do this, it would be considered a financial scandal.
Stein also said that RSO members expressed that "it takes 6 months to 2 years" for them to receive funding. Zona, on the other hand, stated that she's had more visitors this year to Senate meetings and received positive feedback from RSOs.
"We don't ever want to see a tuition increase unless students directly say they need more from a particular department," she added, addressing the Activity & Service Fee budget, for which she is the committee vice chair.
Zagrocki said that on his list of campaign priorities is setting accurate funding policies and making sure that SGA doesn't "run out of money," adding that he hopes to continue focusing on the upcoming A&SF phone application.
Candidates' closing remarks
"SGA is something we've been a part of for so long ... and we hope to provide great services that generations and generations can build on ... I'm stuttering right now because of the passion I have for it," Jones said.
Zagrocki and Stein both remarked that their campaign slogans point to SGA needing a change.
"I feel like SGA hasn't seen the change it needs right now … 'A new day, a new knight' will bring in the change that SGA needs," Zagrocki said. Alex Bennett, Zagrocki's running mate, said that she acknowledges her lack of SGA experience. While her vice presidential opponents answered the question of what their duties as vice presidents would entail, Bennett said she is willing to learn more about the system and that her Panhellenic board experience will benefit her leadership.
Stein heatedly stated that SGA's leadership and campaigns have been "cookie cutter" in nature, and that he and Mo's platform will offer innovation.
Nada Hassanein is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @nhassanein_or email her at NadaH@CentralFloridaFuture.com.