Yesterday there was an AMS council meeting. I missed it, but since everyone loves hearing about the machinations of democracy, or better yet, themselves, here’s a summary written up by Blake Frederick, the AVP Academic and University Affairs (otherwise known as Brendon’s minion), on his brand-new blog: I also have word that a certain illustrious blog was featured to encourage more people to run for office! woot!

Reading Blake’s summary over, it strikes me that the code and policies committee is a bit ridiculous. Yesterday they brought forward a policy restricting sound recording and video recording at AMS council and committee meetings. This is a topic that when you really think about it, might actually be important a couple times a year. Whatever. But code & policies has pro-actively taken it on! It almost instantaneously devoted attention to this (in my opinion silly) topic, to introduce (in my opinion silly) code amendments, when at the same time, code & policies has been sitting on some big items that have literally been waiting for attention for years. Big items like committee reform, and a students’ assembly. These are initiatives that actually had council support, and partial approval, but were sent to the committee for some more work and expertise. Hah – the committee is basically a junkyard of abandoned policy. Apparently, committee chair Scott Bernstein’s personal aversion to the gaze of video lenses (the horror!) is more important than council’s priorities.

This actually brings up some bigger topics:

  • Council tends to bundle things off to code & policies when anything of a slightly technical nature comes up, or when they can’t seem to agree. This means that any complex or controversial policies end up being delayed indefinitely, and council can conveniently forget about them. This is also symptomatic of the fact that other working groups in the society don’t seem to draft policies at all. There isn’t a great venue for policy consultation other than the committee, and the whole council itself. Both have proved agonizingly inefficient in different ways.
  • In the terms of reference for the committee (code section V article 6), it is clear that the body is to be used by council as an expert group. If the code & policies committee doesn’t follow council’s priorities, in favour of (in this year’s case) bylaw changes and the chair’s personal initiatives, there’s a problem.


19 Comments so far

  1. Blake on October 25, 2007 6:11 pm

    Just to clarify, the code explicitly allows sound recording of Council meetings, so long as the recording device is not concealed.

  2. Blake on October 25, 2007 6:14 pm

    Oh yeah, and the post says the meeting was on May 24th.

  3. maayan kreitzman on October 25, 2007 11:19 pm

    thanks blake. for reference, here it is:

    Article 1
    21. (g) Audio and video recording of the in camera portion of a Council meeting is prohibited.

    22. Subject to paragraph 21(g) above, audio recording of Council meetings shall be permitted so long as the recording process does not interfere with the normal functions of Council and so long as the recording devices remain visible at all times.

    23. Subject to paragraph 21(g) above, video recording of Council meetings by the public, Council members or the media shall not be permitted unless Council approves suchrecording by a Two-thirds (2/3) Resolution. Where possible, notice of video recording shall be given to Council members at least forty-eight (48) hours prior to the Council meeting. If video recording does take place, arrangements shall be made to accommodate those persons not wishing to appear on camera.

    Article 1. General 8.
    Unless there is unanimous consent from the Committee members present at a meeting, audio and video recording of Committee meetings is prohibited.

  4. Anonymous on October 26, 2007 2:55 am

    Um…. why don’t they just set a deadline for the C&PC reporting back on matters committed to them?

    It’s a fairly normal thing to do…

  5. Anonymous on October 26, 2007 6:09 am

    Ironically, committee reform was partially designed to deal with the problem of committees not reporting back. There does not currently exist an effective means to hold committees accountable for the work that is assigned to them. There also isn’t a way to make sure their priorities are in line with broader council goals.

    The Student Assembly, for instance, was supposed to be reported on in August 2005.


  6. Alex Lougheed on October 26, 2007 10:33 am

    Recording is something the society should definitely have detailed policy on. The rights of members should be made clear. In terms of that motion being bumped ahead of other projects, I have no problems as it did not take up a significant amount of time from the bylaw re-envisioning.

    I think the idea that issues “complex and controversial” get ignored because they’re sent to the black hole that is C&P is a little inaccurate. I’ve sat on many other committees that get caught up in development hell. I think it’s more of an overall symptom of leaders (chairs, specifically) not being informed or charged enough to confidently declare plans of action. This could be accommodated for in the short term by having persistent turnover between committee chairs, but I think the grander solution would be, as Spencer suggested, revisit the committee structure altogether. My committee is not absolved of these crimes either, but we (and I) are trying out best.

  7. tristan on October 29, 2007 1:30 am

    although i said a little too much at council (i apologize) there is something i didn’t get to express: i totally sympathize with those who find council intimidating enough without there being a camera there. i have always found council intimidating, not just for myself, but for others. and we all (myself included) should always be more sensitive to that. and i want everyone to know that i do not think that recording, or anything else, should be used to make it harder to speak out than it already is.

    the reason i opposed the original motion (the moratorium) and this motion (bureacratic hoops) is that i sensed that those who wrote the motions (not those who voted for it) were councilors who are vocal, confident, and would not be intimidated by cameras per se (as technicological recoding devices), but rather are more intimidated by having their comments and voting records, in detail, available to the student body via whatever media.
    that is my opinion. it is important that as elected representatives, we not be affraid to have our public statements and voting records known. of course that’s just my opinion, and i do understand people’s general uncomfortableness with cameras (i’m pretty shy myself), though with practice it isn’t really so bad.
    by the way, the ubyssey just bought a nice video camera this week. they’re pretty annoyed at our motion, to put it nicely. maybe we should have allowed them to film first for a few meetings, to see if it really is as bad as we feared, before putting so many barriers in the way.
    conversely, perhaps trying to limit access to AMS council is a good reverse psychology unconscious strategy to increase our profile, because people will think, wow, they don’t want us to know what’s happening there, so i’m going to make sure to find out. maybe people will make bootleg tapes of council and sell them on the black market!
    oh well. as maayan is correct to point out, it really doesn’t matter much. ams is as ams does. and the press and public will opine accordingly.

  8. Jesse Ferreras on October 29, 2007 1:34 am

    No offense Alex, but I’m not sure what rights you’re talking about in the context of this issue. Scott Bernstein initially brought this issue forward last September after what seems like minimal consultation with anyone aside from himself.

    In fact, he made fairly clear to me in an interview outside council chambers in September that he could not provide a specific example of why he was bringing this up in the first place.

    I asked him whether a councillor had expressed concern about this – he said no.

    I asked him about the last time he heard about someone being misquoted in the Ubyssey – he said he didn’t know, and couldn’t name a specific incident.

    But then he backtracked and said that when he brought the issue of recording up with councillors that they were “somehow uncomfortable.” He also said that things are said in council meetings that are supposed to be sarcastic, witty or funny, and that councillors might be more “guarded” in what they say if they’re being recorded.

    If these are the grounds that the AMS is going on for even discussing the issue, then I think it’s ridiculous that any policy has been made on recording to begin with. I can guarantee that if at any meeting I heard a councillor saying something that was sarcastic, witty, or funny, I’d have no problem writing it down, however messy my notes would be. Those comments I’m sure I would remember, and I wouldn’t need a recorder to register them.

    If you want to have a policy on recording, fine, but like Maayan said, there’s a lot of other things that could be focused upon and that undoubtedly need a lot of attention – the Students’ Assembly, for example, which now seems to have been on the backburner for over two years despite a candidate for VP academic in the past election (Bruce Krayenhoff) making it a pillar of his campaign.

    Another thing, I put a note in my story in the Ubyssey about this issue last September that the most recent AMS Council minutes posted online date back to June 27, 2007. This is still the case.

    Maybe the Code and Policy Committee could attend to this?

  9. Alfie on October 29, 2007 7:34 am

    Alex, Spencer, and Jeff,

    Please pardon my ignorance and inexperience with the AMS.

    If the Council has a set number of committees and a clear,defined terms of reference along with a set timeline for each committee to report back to the Council, then the AMS meeting will be much more meaningful, organized and effective. However, from what I understand, I know nobody who is actually keeping count with the number of committees existed. There is no terms of reference for each committees, nor are their works published on the new fancy AMS websites. Students-at-large don’t know who sit on specific committees and what each councillor specializes in when it comes to advocacy and helping students out. Everything is up to the Execs to deal with. In many occasions, councillors sign up for something that they don’t even know what they got themselves into! every meeting will always have some awkward moments of every person is trying to pass off his/her nomination to somebody else for committee appointment.

    It just seems bizarre to me every time when i ran into these moments because Jeff is so advocating communications with the general student body when the council itself lack the communication among one another.

    Btw, Alex, a constant change in the chair of committees may help with stopping councillors abusing their powers due to a lack of supervision and reviews. However, in the case of the AMS, NO councillor is trying to abuse his/her power. Rather, the councillors are so lack of knowledge that they don’t even know how to exercise their power!

    In this case, a more long-term, committed chair (i.e. Maayan) is needed for each committee to facilitate the discussion and to educate the members.

    I apologize if I repeated anything that was on the committee reform report for the AMS.


  10. Anonymous on October 29, 2007 11:46 pm


    You’re quite right to be concerned. An organization can only communicate coherently to the external world if it can also coherently communicate internally. In the status quo the AMS is a bit akin to a schizophrenic

    To speak to your specific questions, there are terms of reference for the committees, within the Code of Procedures, but there is rarely, if ever, an annual schedule of tasks to be completed within the committee’s term. As for the rest, you are also correct to note that this information is not provided on the website, and has only been provided once in the 10 or so iterations of the site since 2000.

    The problem is that chairs are expected to come up with their own agenda and are given no guidance from Council, even though they are in a reporting relationship to Council (this includes Executives that are forced to chair certain committees according to Code). Then, if and when they do come up with a workplan for the year, there’s nobody to monitor their progress or to make sure it aligns with Council goals.

    Proposals in the AMS tend to get lost with time so there’s nothing wrong with asking, Alfie. The specific proposal within the committee reform report was to have an Agenda Committee that would meet a week before Council. It would be chaired by the President with the committee chairs as the other voting members, and the speaker and GM as non-voting members. There they would monitor the progress of committee work, construct the agenda for Friday publication, and receive proposals from at-large members and councillors and send them to the correct committee for consideration, as well as some other basic administrative work. The President would be able to hold the committees accountable and in a semi-private setting instead of just embarassing the chairs in Council.


  11. Scott Bernstein on October 31, 2007 4:39 am

    I appreciate that this topic has raised such an interesting debate both in the Ubyssey and on this website. When this idea arose, as noted inaccurately by Jesse Ferreras, the main concern I had was that Council had no policy whatsoever on any kind of recording. This seemed a bit naive and shocking to me that a society with over 40,000 members shouldn’t have any policy on how its own meetings might be recorded. I felt that this was an issue that Council should address. Council agreed and sent this to the Code and Policy committee for a policy, which we discussed for a month, agreed to unanimously, and presented to Council in a motion that was passed with only two opposing votes.

    I find it surprising that people characterize this motion as a restriction on recording. As prior to this motion Council had NO policy, it would have been open to the body to restrict audio or video at whim. Or, anyone could march into Council with lights and cameras and make a movie without the consent of Council or our guests. Not too long ago, anti-abortion activists tried to hijack a Council meeting with their video cameras.

    With the new policy, Council may not restrict audio recording and video recording will likely be allowed as long as the person doing it has a legitimate reason for recording. Echoing Tristan’s comments in the Ubyssey today, I would encourage many, many people to come to the next Council meeting with their video recorders. I will gladly move that Council approve the taping of that meeting. I can’t imagine that it will make for gripping video footage, but it will be nice to see students participating nonetheless.

    As for taping in committee meetings, I think it is reasonable for committees to decide for themselves whether they want to be recorded or not. Committees are comprised of elected councilors and non-elected at-large members. Does the public have a right to record a non-elected member without their consent? Also, how well do you suppose a committee will function when one member opposed the recording, everyone else was okay with it, and it went ahead anyway? Will that one dissenting voice be silenced? That’s seemed like a reasonable conclusion to the committee and a majority of councilors.

    In coming up with this policy, the Code and Policy Committee debated these issues thoroughly. The Ubyssey was well aware that we were charged with constructing a policy and could have commented at any time. Jesse Ferreras or others from the Ubyssey chose not to comment on the policy or help the committee to come to its informed decision (Jesse noted that it was a conflict of interest for him to say anything about the policy, but I see that he has resolved that conflict within his own fluid code of ethics). Tristan was urged to come up with any amendments to the language of the policy at the Council meeting and he was also silent on that point. In some people’s minds, no policy is the best policy. I disagree.

    In coming up with this policy, the committee balanced issues of councilor and guest privacy, councilor liability, and the open atmosphere of debate we enjoy at council with the important practice of openness and access to Council by the students we serve. I recommended and we considered whether Council should record its own meetings and decided that in a climate where students won’t even come out in a quorum to vote for bylaw changes, very few people would actually sit down and watch or listen to four hours of Council meetings. I hope that people sidestep the middle-person and actually show up and participate if they are interested in the business of the student government. If people express enough interest, I am still in favour of Council recording its own meetings.

    I (and Council overwhelmingly) feel that this policy is a good balance. No one is restricting students from coming to meetings and participating. No one is trying to conduct business behind closed doors. These policies allow for a reasonable management of the Council meetings so that we can get business done without intimidation.

    By the way, for those who believe that the Code and Policy committee has been sitting on its ass for the term, well – you’re just plain ignorant. At the beginning of the term, we outlined our priorities and decided that the most effective thing we could do this term would be to rewrite the antiquated and ineffective bylaws of the society. So, that’s what we’ve been doing. Re-writing the bylaws…all of them…in the hope that enough students will show up to vote for them in a referendum.

  12. maayan kreitzman on October 31, 2007 6:45 am

    yes, but the code&policy commitee’s first duties are to do what council wants it to do – not what it prioritizes for itself. Also, what are these nebulous ‘liability issues’ you speak of? This whole discussion implies a terrible urgency. Oh no! we lack a policy! heaven forbid! lets beurocratize every trivial little thing! even if it has never been problematic, like, ever!
    Seriously scott, if you weren’t in law, and weren’t the policy chair, this would have been a collective shrug. As it should have been. Now AMS just has another innocuous, but superfluous policy.

  13. Fire Hydrant on October 31, 2007 7:08 am

    At the risk of starting a particularly esoteric and uncalled-for tangent, rewriting all of the bylaws at once is an exercise in futility and a poor use of time. The more we try to change in one question, the fewer people will actually read it, the more will be suspicious of our motives and the more will find something they disagree with (Charlottetown Accord, anyone?). To pass it, we need at least a 75% vote and 4500 yes votes, an all but unobtainable set of requirements.

    Make quorum attainable (but still difficult), fix obvious errors like the names of the exec positions, allow us to buy or lease land or buildings (as would be required to expand into University Square), and either leave everything else for a future referendum or put it in a separate question. And I strongly advise the future referendum, because this set is already likely to include referenda on the U-Pass, UBC Farm and SUB Renewal, and those are only the ones I know of.

  14. Jesse Ferreras on October 31, 2007 7:23 am


    With regard to my “fluid code of ethics,” as you call it, you did invite me to be part of the discussions towards a new policy on recording. It was a welcome invitation, and I declined, citing a conflict of interest.

    Journalists shouldn’t sit on Parliamentary committees, so I see little reason why student journalists should be sitting on AMS policy committees.

    But you also posted, inaccurately, that I would not say anything about the policy. That is untrue. In fact I presented my own argument in favour of recording AMS Council proceedings at the very meeting where you introduced this motion in the first place. So I suppose that I had resolved that allegedly “fluid” code of ethics long before you asked me to take part in discussions in the first place.

    What I said in my post is that you have not provided a specific example as to why you put this recording stuff in motion in the first place.

    To put it more frankly, I just can’t figure out what the heck you’re doing here.

    Here’s a few of the concerns you’ve cited about recording AMS meetings:
    – your unease about there not being a policy
    – your concern that “sarcastic, witty or funny things” are said in meeting
    – your concern that, with meetings being recorded, councillors might be more guarded in what they say
    – your surprise that no one had brought up their own concerns about there not being a policy on recording
    – the comfort of councillors being recorded

    Which one is it, Scott?

    You’ve flip-flopped, time and time again, on what your motivation was for tabling this motion in the first place. You told council your concern was about policy, but you told me your biggest concern was that media would have a more accurate record of meetings than would councillors.

    That isn’t the media’s fault, but it was nevertheless a concern that entered your head before you tried to institute a moratorium on media freedom to record AMS meetings.

    By the way, if the moratorium you proposed on your original motion were to go through, you said you expected that it would be lifted at the next meeting, at which you expected the Code and Policy Committee to have a new policy ready. That would have been September 24th, two weeks after the meeting in which this issue was brought up in the first place.

    This motion went through at the October 24th meeting, a whole month later. Were media recordings expected to wait out a delay by your committee until you could get your discussions in order?

  15. Scott on October 31, 2007 3:54 pm


    You’re a reporter who reports on the AMS. Advocating for a certain policy at a Council meeting or taking a particular perspective about a policy that might alter your role as a reporter in a “news” piece doesn’t raise any issues about conflict of interest with you? I think your comments should have remained on the editorial page, personally.

    I wasn’t asking you to sit on the committee, by the way, but to comment on the work we were doing at the time. I think the “conflict of interest” claim was an excuse because you were pissed at me for bringing this issue up. If you don’t participate in the process, you shouldn’t complain about the outcome. Also, I don’t remember you being at the Council meeting on October 24th (or anyone else from the Ubyssey for that matter) to offer “un-conflicted” comments.

    You’re right, I didn’t articulate my ideas well to you at the time that you interviewed me. I was still thinking the issue through from the various perspectives. Several of the issues I brought up at the time didn’t prove to be important to the committee in the end. So what? Are we not allowed to process ideas and evolve in our thinking about issues? I don’t think I took any oath that said I had to refer back to comments I said to you in the hallway of the SUB and have those comments guide me throughout my life (although you seem to think that they do). I commented to you in the hallway that I had been convinced by the other councillors that a moratorium wasn’t necessary after all. Am I not allowed to listen to input from other people and change my stand? By the way, I voted for the motion in September WITHOUT the moratorium on recording, but you decided not to print that point.

    And, to your comment on the delay. Should a moratorium have been passed, the committee would have been a lot more hasty in coming up with a new policy. Since it was the status quo, we didn’t see a big rush and took our time.

    Finally, the more I think about it and read people’s comments, the more I think the policy was a good idea and well thought out.

  16. Scott on October 31, 2007 4:02 pm


    Council passed a resolution directing Code and Policy to rewrite the membership bylaw. We made the decision that if we were going to rewrite that one, it would be a good idea to look at other ones as well. I made a committee presentation to council that this is what our intention was and that we recommend a bylaw referendum and council said “great – go for it”. So, I took that to mean that we had direction from council to go ahead with that. I’ll be happy to present this plan to council again at the next meeting for their approval, or to resign from the code and policy committee and let you take charge of it for a while if you feel you have a better idea of how we can spend our time. It’s all yours.

  17. Scott on October 31, 2007 4:08 pm

    Oh, and one of the liability issues we found was that if someone hid a recording device in a backpack, say, and left that behind while Council was in camera, and then someone reported what was recorded there (which, I hope you will acknowledge might be sensitive), we could be liable because we didn’t have an expressed policy prohibiting this. If Council was talking about me in camera and this got out on a recording, and Council didn’t have a policy prohibiting this, I would sue the pants off of the AMS.

  18. Anonymous on October 31, 2007 4:09 pm

    Maayan –

    To be entirely fair to Scott I doubt that Code was ever given a clear mandate for the year or any official direction about what it should be working on. It is only on rare occasions that Council gives guidance to Code but when it also allows those directions to stagnate for two years (like the Student Assembly) it is not unreasonable for the committee of the day to think it no longer has a mandate to act on it.

    Then again this perspective is largely because I was a very activist Code Chair. It should also be noted that I forced my committee to talk about committee reform years ago despite abundant disinterest in the subject from Counil. Now there seems to be a general consensus that the committee structure needs to be reformed in order to strengthen Council (which, by the way, if Mr. Naylor is elected President he will likely fight against such reform if his previous comments to me mean anything). So committees working on their own thing isn’t necessarily bad. It just isn’t good when those projects are at the expense of real Council mandates.

    In the end it’s quite simple – committees are no more psychic than you or I and if you fail to lead them then it should not shock you if they fail to follow.


    PS: Normally I only agree with 70% of any given thing that Darren says but this time he’s bang on.

  19. Jesse Ferreras on November 2, 2007 6:39 am

    Think as you like, Scott. I, like many, don’t think you should have motioned for a moratorium to begin with. And I know at the time you would have wished my comments in AMS Council had remained on the editorial page because you tried to interrupt me as I was saying them. That, and your moratorium got struck down pat. (And later, you seemed glad that part of your motion fell through the cracks.)

    My comments against the moratorium were the first of many that followed, including from members of the AMS executive. Most of us thought it was a terrible idea, except you initially, who wanted it.

    At the time, outside the meeting, you told me my comments “made sense” to you, but now you think they shouldn’t have been said at all.

    Again, you’ve flip-flopped, now saying my comments should have stayed on the editorial page. Could it have anything to do with the fact that they were persuasive?

    Reporters aren’t robots – we have opinions like everyone else. And any time we feel there’s an affront to openness we won’t sit back and let it go forward.

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