BREAKING: SGA rules of engagement suspended after legal troubles, worrying mental health

SGA President Gabe Montalbano said the SGA executive branch “had no prior knowledge” and will continue normal operations without university recognition.

Siri Patterson and Will Hofmann

SGA’s rules of engagement and its elections will be suspended indefinitely, Vice Chancellor J.J. Brown announced at an SGA senate meeting Tuesday.

The suspension of the rules of engagement means while SGA’s “work will continue, their actions must be focused on creating a new constitution, coupled with a process that is compliant with the university’s policies governing all student organizations,” according to Chief Communication Officer Megan Hayes.

During J.J. Brown’s special report to SGA, he cited a mental health survey of SGA, the removal and dismissal of advisers from discussions as well as “infighting which has continued to dominate the business of the organization.” 

 “I say all of that with the aforementioned items in mind, I’m suspending the rules of engagement for the Student Government Association. Effective immediately,” J.J. Brown said.

You can listen to J.J. Brown’s full remarks here:

J.J. Brown has the authority to regulate “any institutionally recognized system of student self-governance and student participation in the governance of any aspect of institutional programs and services,” J.J. Brown said during the speech.

After the meeting, the SGA President Gabe Montalbano made this statement to The Appalachian:

“The Montalbano-Kukral administration had no prior knowledge or allowed involvement with any of the choices made for the SGA tonight. The executive branch will carry on representing students with or without formal recognition by administration as the lack of narcan accessibility, the housing crisis in Boone and little-to-no grade transparency between professors and students still impact the everyday lives of thousands. If the university is going to force the SGA to change its constitution, it would be crucial to have the executive branch present as it’s the only group with more than one year of experience currently in SGA.”

Vice Chancellor JJ Brown and Associate Vice Chancellor Jeff Cathey provided Mr. Montalbano with notice about the rules suspension in meetings and conversations on both Monday and Tuesday prior to Tuesday’s meeting, according to an email with Hayes.

J.J. Brown said the SGA constitution has not been in compliance with App State’s requirements for student organizations for several years, and suggested changes need to be made to the “organization, constitution and its structure.”

J.J. Brown also said a settlement agreement with former SGA president Quson Brown and former SGA vice president Alejandro Barreto was reached after a Feb 3. letter from local attorney Nathan Miller.

In the letter, some members of SGA were specifically named, alongside the university, as possible plaintiffs in a lawsuit.

“In my 20 years of working with SGA, in some capacity, this was a first for me,” J.J. Brown said. “A potential lawsuit, not only listing individual students, and a long list at that, but also naming the university.”

 J.J. Brown said several members of SGA reported the letter negatively impacted their mental health, and had mentioned that some hired private lawyers in response to the letter. 

“Over many years, this legal action affecting dozens of SGA representatives, and exposing the university to litigation is a particularly significant example of the extremes to which the organization has become less effective and more autocratic,” J.J. Brown said. 

J.J. Brown cited a mental health study of SGA conducted by Victoria Marino, a “cabinet member and student leader in the Wellness and Prevention Center,” as a way of displaying the negative effects SGA has on students.

“In Victoria’s survey of SGA members, senators indicated that 50% of the organization indicated that SGA negatively impacted their mental health,” J.J. Brown said. “In that same study, nearly 70% indicated they sometimes or never feel comfortable at Senate meetings. Likewise, nearly 85% indicate that they sometimes or never feel that SGA is a safe and open place.”

J.J. Brown also discussed the role of advisers in SGA.

“Additionally, your advisers have been dismissed, removed from discussions, and while the adviser role is not to direct the important voice of students, the role is to guide the operation of the organization as it relates to the individual treatment of students, management of university processes, such as budget, and processes involving other university administration,” J.J. Brown said. 

J.J. Brown suggested current members of SGA use their Tuesday meeting time to develop and make subsequent changes to the organization. Brown said an adviser is required for this process and must be included. 

“I’m hoping that a pause will allow you to meet and work together to make significant changes, have respectful conversations and develop a path to move forward in a positive and healthy way,” J.J. Brown said.

Elections will be suspended so “new leadership is not faced with the same similar challenges,” J.J. Brown said.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story included a headline that didn’t clarify the kind of suspension SGA received. The story has been updated with a more accurate headline, and more information about rules of engagements suspensions has been added for clarification.