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Patel's resignation in best interest of all parties

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | SEPTEMBER 19, 2011 7:20 AM

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Regardless of the who-fired-whom-or-forced-whom-to-resign drama, university student and candidate for City Council Raj Patel was acting in both his and the University of Iowa Student Government's best interests when he resigned from his position as UISG's City Council liaison.

The UISG needs someone most inclined to serve its explicit platforms.

Though it is understandable, perhaps even commendable, that Patel wishes to retain his former position in the student government, his interests have shifted away from those of the student body — and if they haven't, they should have.

The position of council liaison is vital to the student government's initiatives. As UISG Vice President Brittany Caplin explained, one of the liaison's primary responsibilities is to be present at every Iowa City City Council meeting.

"The liaison is a non-voting member, but you sit at the table during work sessions, and you give your opinion and you participate," she said.

But, she said, it's also a very open position. During his tenure as council liaison, current UISG President Elliot Higgins sent a letter proposing the council to consider lowering the fine for being underage in a bar after 10 p.m.

"That was of his own initiative," said Caplin.

Though Higgins' proposal illustrates that a liaison acting on his own accord can benefit students, the conditions are different in regard to Patel. As he continues his campaign for City Council, his interests should shift to that of Iowa City as a whole. The UISG council liaison should represent the students, a demographic that predominantly consists of four- to five-year residents.

"He's representing the students," Caplin said. "So the issue is, which role does he say he is while he's out campaigning?"

The platform on which Patel is running (promoting sustainability and safety; accentuating downtown's economic and entertainment vibrancy) does not necessarily conflict with UISG's specific ambitions (establishing an off-campus housing website; reforming the current Iowa One Card system; encouraging various sustainability and safety programs). But in the eyes of the student government, the particular policies officials wish to advocate are better off in the hands of UI student Cody Graham, the newly named liaison. He had been attending City Council meetings under Patel until the candidate's resignation.

The time commitment of the position is considerable, especially when coupled with a full UI course load, and even more so if one is actively campaigning. Caplin estimated that Patel was paid for approximately 15 hours every week, a number that does not include the time spent catering to the many other responsibilities of the position. For example, the UISG council liaison is a participating member of the executive board. The executive board has a planning meeting once every week.

There are other necessary commitments, as well.

"The idea is, you go to the meetings, are available to any students who want to speak to you, and you have to attend all of our planning meetings," Caplin said.

This exact scenario has taken place in the recent past. In September 2009, the 2009-10 UISG endorsed City Council candidate Jeff Shipley, who was acting as the council liaison at the time. Shipley did not resign from his position, and he did not win the election.

Some U.S. states have made it illegal for a current office-holder to run for another elected position (though they likely do not include paid student-government positions). In Arizona, HB 2425 dictates that "[e]xcept during the final year of the term being served, no incumbent of a salaried elective office, whether holding by election or appointment, may offer himself for nomination or election to any salaried local, state, or federal office." The provision holds exceptions for those who take an unpaid leave of absence.

On a national scale, Texas Gov. Rick Perry continues to collect his $150,000 salary while touring the country running for president. This is a conflict of interest and can easily be viewed as hypocritical.

In Patel's case, a refusal to resign from his position would probably not have been hypocritical — much of his platform is consistent with the UISG's — but one should not be representing the students when campaigning for a position to represent the entire city. The priorities of the two demographics are far from homogenous. In the wake of the 21-ordinance vote, it was estimated that 80 to 90 percent of the "Yes" votes came from "predominantly student precincts." The final tally had "No" garnering 53 percent of the votes.

Patel's resignation was in the best long-term interests of both Patel and the UISG. He should spend his time gauging the interests of the entirety of those he wishes to represent. The UISG now pays someone who has little incentive but to push the student government's stated agenda.

Everybody might not be happy, but everyone is better of because of it.


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