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Steamroller democracy

The ASUC Auxiliary’s Store Operations Board (SOB) is composed of 12 members, 7 of which are students. It oversees an annual budget of over $3-million, the commercial activities and operations of Eshleman Hall and MLK Student Union.

The Board meets monthly, is open to the public, and used to be a space for student and university leaders to make plans for the future of the student buildings. Its next meeting, however (Friday, Oct.21st, starting at 2:10pm in the ASUC Senate Chambers), should not be the stage of much discussion.

Indeed, as we have learned, the new Board Chair Ryan Landis has adopted a “steamroller” policy so that no single item, no matter how important, should be decided in more than 10 minutes, and god forbid the whole meeting last longer than an average Berkeley lecture.

Chair Landis’ agenda for October 21st is included here: SOB – October 21, 2011 Agenda . Did you notice there’s no “Approval of the Agenda” item? Unlike just about every Board of Directors on the planet, the SOB does not get to decide on its own agenda. It is set unilaterally by the Chair.

The meeting starts with a “Discussion of how Board meetings should take place”. With 5 minutes allocated to this item, though, or about 25 second per Board member (that is, if Chair Landis does not take up the first three minutes imposing his version of meeting procedure), we wonder how much meaningful ‘discussion’ may take place.

Did you see the Daily Cal article about how $30-million was cut from the Lower Sproul Redevelopment Project and construction will proceed in one phase ? Seems like a pretty important topic for the Board to weigh in, since it oversees the very buildings affected by the project. According to Landis’ agenda, these news deserve a good 2 minutes of ‘discussion’.

In all fairness, part of the SOB’s reduction in meeting time is due to delegating its work to subcommittees. So, how much time do these subcommittees have to report on their work, and for the rest of the Board to provide feedback? Between 1 and 2 minutes.

Only at the very end of the agenda will an item be allocated a whole 12 minutes, to debate and vote a business lease proposal. Time is money, friends, and it looks like a $2,000/month contract is worth about 1-minute’s worth of discussion per Board member.

Do we really believe the Store Operations Board can effectively oversee a multi-million dollar operation with 71-minute meetings once a month? Of course not. All this means is that the real debate and decisions will happen outside the public Board meetings. Another great lesson in transparency at Cal!