Why the CSU student body president was (really) impeached

An editorial in response to the impeachment of CSU’s student body president. Read the original here

We went home to our families last week and realized we failed you. When our parents asked, “So, they impeached that guy? Why?” we sighed. When we saw the same question in our Facebook comments section, we struggled to answer.

Unless you have been following our news coverage religiously since the beginning of the semester and reading in between the lines, it’s difficult to understand why CSU’s student body president, Josh Silva, was impeached. Even Senator Kevin Sullivan, after being presented with over 100 pages of jumbled evidence that night, said the body was left with more questions than answers.

Sometimes we’re limited in what we can show you, and sometimes answering the question of “Why?” instead of simply “What?” requires interpretation.

Our campus deserves to know not just what happened, but why it happened. We think we can offer that because the same people who covered the election last spring when Silva won by a handful of votes are the same people who heard rumors about impeachment before the semester even started. We followed this from beginning to end: meeting off the record, digging through documents, requesting records and promising anonymity if someone, anyone, would be brave enough to tell our readers why.

So, here, we offer one answer: our own interpretation as outsiders (without a stake in an outcome) who were offered an inside look.

Silva’s impeachment started long before the first senate session of the year. If we look at the timeline Silva and Senator Cerridwyn Nordstrom included in the impeachment evidence, it’s easy to see the process started before he won the election. A group of conservative students on campus (The Conservative Interest Group, now an LLC, started out as a caucus of student government two years ago) endorsed Silva and Michael Wells for ASCSU president and vice president. To them, the candidates’ platform appeared to be the most fiscally conservative.

After Silva won, the timeline shows that Nordstrom, and presumably other liberal-leaning senators, were concerned that his presidency would be a “major loss for diversity,” since he was endorsed by CIG, which has a long track record of controversial stances in ASCSU and on campus. The beginning of the impeachment was political, despite claims by Nordstrom that it was not.

Then, senate went on recess for the summer, and Silva’s cabinet stayed to work. Silva had concerns early on about Kyrie Merline’s performance as the marketing director. She came into the start of the semester worried about her job—a problem that was amplified by Silva’s relationship with another person in the marketing department. The relationship eventually sparked the Office of Equal Opportunity investigation to investigate whether Silva was giving his partner preferential treatment in the department.

Merline said in her remarks at the last senate session that she feared for her job and had her self-worth questioned. Whether or not Silva was actually planning to fire Merline and promote his partner (an accusation that was made, but not yet proved, as the OEO investigation is ongoing), it’s clear that Silva had fundamental problems communicating with and leading his cabinet.

Finally, there are several claims that Silva acted inappropriately and unprofessionally in the office. Some members said he made them uncomfortable coming to work. Others said they felt the need to resign due to his intimidation tactics, among other accusations, most of which we interpret as a characterization of his inability to show empathy and thus resolve the issues that began to pile on with each negative interaction.

All of this created a toxic work environment, escalated by Silva’s complete denial of any responsibility for the issues at hand throughout the process.

There’s also the non-issue of the Wall Street Journal contract. Silva was supposedly impeached because he violated the ASCSU Constitution when he failed to consult the senate before negotiating the terms of providing the newspaper to campus. But, to be frank, violations like this happen all the time. In the years we’ve covered ASCSU, we’ve found them forgetful, even negligent, when it comes to sticking to their constitution.

While this is not an excuse for Silva, precedent would suggest that a president would not be impeached for a procedural violation. In fact, the senate itself was in violation during the impeachment because, according to the organization’s impeachment procedures, they are technically supposed to go into an executive session (They didn’t because CSU General Counsel advised against it in order to comply with open meetings law in Colorado. But, they did not even comply with that, because they held the vote by secret ballot—not legal if complying with sunshine law).

The Wall Street Journal violation was, at best, a small additive to the larger concern for the toxic environment helped by, if not inspired by, poor leadership, and at worst, a cover-up. His admittance of fault here is not helpful because the members didn’t really care about The Wall Street Journal contract. They cared about their friends who felt harassed, threatened and intimidated.

And, because ASCSU has a tendency of scheming behind closed doors to solve problems rather than confronting each other openly, three petitions were filed, 120 pages of evidence was submitted (some of which was supposed to be redacted, but accidentally wasn’t), and a University investigation (of which the results should be released in the near future) was initiated.

We’ve been told that the organization is going to work on revising their impeachment procedures. They should. But more than that, they should reflect, openly and directly with one another, on how a toxic culture starts in the first place. Perhaps it was best said by Senator Isaiah Martin that night when he asked his peers, “Is this an organization that you want to be able to proudly say you were in?” Right now, if this culture of what Merline described that night as drama and backdoor meetings continue, the answer appears to be no.

The Collegian Editorial Board can be reached at editor@collegian.com or on Twitter @CSUCollegian.

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