Five years ago on Nov. 12, 2007, Student Government Association senators were in a nearly two and a half hour closed executive session, to decide the fate of then-SGA president Terry Liggins.
Liggins, a senior at the time, was ultimately removed from the University of South Dakota SGA office under allegations of misuse of funds, powers and privileges.
Some USD students expressed their concerns regarding the privacy of the ordeal, making the point that they elected the president and should therefore know the details of his removal.
Complaints that the Senate’s votes should have been public, just like the state legislature or U.S Senate led SGA to make some sweeping changes in the years to come.
SGA has come a long way since then with new by-laws allowing trials be open to the public, SGA President Alissa VanMeeteren said.
“The SGA president is supposed to be held to the highest standard of a senate,” VanMeeteren said. “I think it is important that SGA meetings remain open to the public, that way there is no room for us to screw up or abuse any power. The students who elected us should be able to check on us.”
To ensure something like this does not happen again, there are numerous fiscal guidelines the SGA president must follow, one of those being misuse of funds, which was one of Liggins’ main violations.
VanMeeteren said she would only be able to use a USD fleet vehicle by checking in with one of her advisers and getting just enough money to cover a certain trip, rather than the informal process that was in place a few years ago.
SGA has done an upstanding job in trying to ensure the current students and senate is happy with the way things are run, USD President James Abbott said.
“Openness is always better,” Abbott said. “Students acted responsibly then with the given situation, and know they would do so today as well.”
Alumna Maren Colon served on the SGA senate during the Liggins trial and said the past has helped improve SGA for the future.
“I am proud to see what Tim Carr and Alissa VanMeeteren have done to improve the future of SGA by bringing it out of some dark times,” Colon said. “There were two impeachments in the three years I served, and I think they have taken the right steps in ensuring something like this doesn’t have to happen again.”
While being president of SGA is a prestigious job, it has its fair share of responsibility and if something goes wrong, it all falls on them, VanMeeteren said.
“The president is the person that (people) come to if there are problems, and is blamed if there are problems,” VanMeeteren said. “It’s important that the senate check the president, and I appreciate having senators that will challenge my ideas and make me think twice if it’s the right thing to do.”