How is ASUU doing?

By By Patrick Muir

By Patrick Muir

[Editor’s note: This is the second installment in a series about the effectiveness of the U’s student government so far this academic year.]

With a budget of more than $1.4 million derived primarily from student fees, being fiscally accountable is one of the primary concerns facing the Associated Students of the University of Utah.

Last year’s administration took criticism for many of its fiscal decisions. One example had former ASUU President Adrian Johnson, former Vice President Anthony White, and former General Assembly Vice Chairperson Andrea Muhlestein spent $2,926.74 taking a trip to Boston to see how other universities ran their student governments. The trip took place one month before they left office and of the ideas brought back, none were implemented.

While campaigning, this year’s ASUU administration introduced the motto of “doing more with less.”

“We’ve done a really good job,” said Chief of Staff Patrick Barnes. “Most of the projects we’ve done are better than in the past, at the fraction of the cost.”

The administration has trimmed expenses considerably from last year. They have saved 35 percent on the amount of money spent on the cabinet, saving $44,315.43. The Senate’s spending is down 25 percent and Assembly down 22 percent for a total saving of $19,782.33.

“The money saved will roll over to the general reserve of ASUU,” said Brian James, director of the financial board.

Barnes gives the credit to James for ASUU’s success. “Brian has taken the position of financial board director to a new level, where he is constantly looking for ways to be more efficient. Brian has made sure every dollar is accounted for,” Barnes said.

James is an accounting major, who initiated a program to stop fast checks, which is extra money spent to get checks processed quicker. The program will save more than $10,000 annually.

“Brian has made it almost impossible to buy a pencil,” said ASUU accountant George Lindsey jokingly.

“We’re being extremely parsimonious with our money,” said ASUU President Alex Lowe. “That’s not to say that we’re afraid to spend, but we do all that we can to ensure that it will be used in the most effective manner before we commit to anything.”

Lowe and his administration are allowed two retreats during their term in office. Last year the administration spent $8,251.17 on their retreats. This year only $1,567.28 was spent, saving $6683.89.

“Alex and Bobby have been running a tight ship,” Lindsey said. “Everyone has been trimming extraneous costs and working harder to use their money more wisely.”

When comparing cell phone bills, this year’s cabinet has spent three times less than last year’s, saving $2,492.48.

A big reason for less money being spent is the work of the development board, which is responsible for all donations.

“Most of the stuff we have given away as prizes or food, we have been able to get most of that stuff donated. Traditionally ASUU spends a lot of money on these things,” Barnes said.

The fiscal transparency, however, which was supposed to come about by every board posting their budget and expenditures at the ASUU office every month, has not been implemented.

“We did have plans we were working on for releasing more statements. Although we try to make that information handy, if we started issuing reports we feel people are going to start to think that we are putting a spin on it and we think the numbers speak for themselves,” Barnes said.

James spoke of the importance of a third-party auditing ASUU’s spending.

“It’s one thing for us to come out and say, ‘Hey this is where it is going,’ and we can make it look good, but if we have third independent parties going through our information, it’s that much more effective.”

The Presenter’s Office has also seen improvement as well. Last year the office lost about $56,187.80. This year the Presenter’s Office is on track to make a profit of $53,094.30.

“We’ve had some great people in the Presenter’s Office this year who have tried hard to be in tune with what students want to see,” Barnes said. “They have worked much more closely with Brian and the finance board, keeping much more dialogue with expenditures.”

The administration is in process of revamping the Presenter’s Office, a move they believe will give students an opportunity to do more as well as save money. The restructuring will consist of having one student adviser instead of two, and the adviser will have a slightly different focus.

“As a result it should be even more student-driven, give more potential to allow students to learn, and at the same time it should run a lot more efficiently financially,” Barnes said.

ASUU plans to spend a fair amount of money on Diversity Week coming up in March.

“It’s something we are putting a lot of money into, but we feel it will be beneficial to the U,” Barnes said.

ASUU leaders said it is important to spend some money on general election advertising in an attempt to promote elections from an unbiased perspective.

“We want to get students informed and let them know how they can get information on both candidates. We want to get their interests as factors in this election,” Barnes said.

If anyone is concerned about how ASUU spends its money or has any questions, he or she is invited to come visit any of the ASUU staff.

“I have an open-door policy. If any student has any questions about where our funds are going, feel free to come and sit down with me, and I will walk you through it,” James said.

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Dave Salmon contributed to this article.

Fall Semester expenses

Assembly ’03-’04 $50,359.05 Assembly ’04-’05 $39,253.17Total saved $11,105.88 22%

Senate ’03-’04 $35,449.65 Senate ’04-’05 $26,773.20Total saved $8,676.45 25%

Cabinet ’03-’04 $125,855.06Cabinet ’04-’05 $81,539.72Total saved $44,315.34 35%

Cabinet retreat ’03-’04 $8,251.17Cabinet retreat ’04-’05 $1,567.28Total saved $6,683.89 81%

Cell phone bills ’03-’04 $3,668.91Cell phone bills ’04-’05 $1,176.43Total saved $2,492.48 68%