Posted by: | April 6, 2007 | 4 Comments

So Council has approved the creation of an oversight committee and stacked it with code fiends. Fun fun. While it’s not necessarily a bad thing, I don’t think it’s the best model. Why?

  1. No oversight of Council. We’re all about exec transparency, but Council is just as important in the operations of the AMS as is the executive. There are no real bodies that engage in Council oversight.
  2. Committee composition. As pointed out in an earlier post, these committees tend to attract the same types of people who are rules junkies. Which isn’t necessarily bad, but I don’t see how it can be good.
  3. No way to ensure “mature, constructive” criticism. This committee only functions if the oversight is mature and constructive. Again, there is nothing to guard that.
  4. Conflicting interests. By limiting the pool to elected officials, there are two possible grounds of conflict. The first is personal relationships; the existence of pre-existing relationships necessarily causes problems for oversight. For instance, Lougheed listed Naylor a member of his “campaign team.” There’s clearly a pre-existing relationship. Second, it is open to a member of the committee to use it as a springboard to take down an exec member to further their own ends. There’s nothing in the code to address these issues.

It follows that my ideal oversight is mature and constructive, free of conflicting interests, comes from a varied perspective, and oversees Council as well as the executive.

To that end, I propose a model similar to that used by ESPN. Yes, I’m using them for corporate best practices. But here’s the thing – their model is really good. And I can’t find another one anywhere that comes anywhere close to approximating its awesomeness. (By way of background, click here to see the archives and to get a sense of what the ESPN Ombudsperson does.)

What could a re-vamped AMS Ombuds office do? They could fulfill the same function as the existing committee, except in a far more non-political manner. They could identify what the AMS (both Council and the exec) are doing to fulfill the student mission, and assess compliance (or lack thereof) with the stragetic plan. Most importantly, the role of the Ombuds could be to identify both the good things that have been done, as well as the areas for improvement. A nice, fair, balanced report (like the ESPN ones) to Council once a month? I’d like to see that.

Seriously, take a look at the ESPN ones. Can you really, honestly imagine an oversight committee coming up with something that useful and productive? The reason you can’t is because the oversight is being done by student politicians, for whom “mature” and “constructive” behavior are not exactly priorities. They also have conflicting interests (see the most recent article for a good discussion of conflicting versus vested interests), and because they’ll only be exacerbating the Council-Exec tension.

A position modeled on the ESPN one would be easy to fill. And pay big dividends.


4 Comments so far

  1. Maayan Kreitzman on April 6, 2007 11:52 pm

    This is more or less what I was getting at when I asked a few meetings back why there were no at-large members on the oversight committee. Oversigt is usually (in government, buisness) provided by paid outside people that aren’t part of the hierarchy in the orginization.
    This oversight committee is very specific though: it’s just a sub-delegation of council’s responsibility to oversee the executive. As such, it makes sense, but it isn’t comprehensive or detached in any way from the people that make the AMS function.

    That said though, I’m sure the people will do a decent job. It’s not their fault. But the narrow vision for oversight here is strange. Also, why was the ECSS taken out of the people to be overseen? Because of the technicality of them reporting to the president, not the concil. Logically, the ECSS would be included. If oversight was carried out by the Ombuds office like tim suggests, (or by someone else), with a broader mandate, that would not be an issue.

  2. Sam Heppell on April 7, 2007 12:00 am

    Couple of comments:

    First of all, I take issue with the term ‘code fiends’. Not only because a simple slip of the finger renders it as ‘coke fiends’, which changes it from a friendly though somewhat negatively charged term to outright libel… But also because I don’t feel it is fair to characterize all members of the Oversight committee with this blanket term, particularly considering that at least two of the members are new councillors, and at least one of them has never before met the author of this post (although I look forward to the opportunity to do so, and I’m sure he’s very nice)…

    Also, I think the statement that
    ” ‘mature’ and ‘constructive’ behavior are not exactly priorities” for student politicians is uncalled for. Your point about the need for more independent oversight may be a valid one. However, you should be able to make it, articulately and persuasively, without resorting to cheap jibes at the motivations of the councillors who have just volunteered to take on these important roles, and who have not yet had an opportunity to work to prove you wrong.

  3. Tim Louman-Gardiner on April 7, 2007 12:06 am


    Fair points. Though I wasn’t attempting to characterize the current councillors on the committee as coke fiends, code fiends, or even immature.

    I was generalizing. Suggesting that the committee, as currently codified, tends to attract that kind of person. Believe it or not, I’m basing it on experiences beyond just the AMS, and certainly beyond this past year.

    And I express some regret over the wording “not exactly priorities” but not the sentiment. There are many things that motivate politicians of all age levels, student or otherwise. Look honestly at our federal Parliament? Would you characterize that as mature? And why is that? Because when fulfilling their duties, they have many imperatives, including appealing to a voter base, personal relationships, principles… these tend to take control some times.

    Again, please don’t take these points as an indictment of the current committee. I’m speaking far more broadly.

  4. Reka on April 8, 2007 12:08 am

    Can you elaborate on the ESPN model? As far as I can tell from reading two of their articles, the ombudsman (who should have no conflicts of interest in the organization) is hired for a two-year period to essentially watch and read everything ESPN puts out, and make sure it’s fair and unbiased.

    This reminds me a bit about some of Code’s earlier discussions about Oversight, when we were going to have the Speaker of Council oversee (haha) the process, since they’re the only mandated unbiased member of Council and they attend all the meetings already so they have a good idea of what’s going on. Is the Speaker still involved in the current model?

    And in defence of Tim, I agree that a major flaw of the current model is the human element because student politicians are notoriously unprofessional, especially when dealing with each other. I’ve seen plently of behaviour in the AMS and elsewhere that I would consider to be immature and not constructive in the least… especially in situations of actual (or perceived) power imbalance, that would definitely come up with a committee like Oversight.

Name (required)

Email (required)


Speak your mind

Spam prevention powered by Akismet