Following a short investigation, Senate Leader Zack Lindsay announced during Friday’s USGD Senate meeting that he discovered the Student Nutrition Council misspent $1,360 of allocated student fee money during a September trip to San Diego.
“The fact is they spent money on things they weren’t approved for and they spent funds that exceeded the amount they requested for things that were approved,” Lindsay told the Downtown Devil.
During the Student Nutrition Council’s trip to San Diego for the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo, Lindsay found they spent a little less than $648 on food, which they had not been allocated money for, and $720 more on registration for the conference than they were allocated.
Lindsay began looking into their funding on Tuesday evening, but had felt something was wrong about the request since shortly after the conference.
“It didn’t fall in line with the use of student programming fee money,” Lindsay said. “It just stuck with me.”
After finding receipts and other paperwork that pointed to a misuse of funds, Lindsay contacted members of the Student Nutritional Council, including School of Nutrition and Health Promotion Sen. Rachel Cassinat and council President Taylor Wellwood.
Cassinat went on the trip, but was not a senator at the time.
Wellwood said she found out about the funding misuse at 2 a.m. on Thursday. She and other members of the Student Nutritional Council blame miscommunication for the misuse of funds.
They said Diana Soto, business operations manager for the Downtown campus, told them they could use money for food if they simply filled out a food waiver form.
Food was not included in the council’s funding request, but they brought up the possibility of food because they saved money from their original request.
The Student Nutrition Council originally requested $22,404.96 to take 24 members on the trip. The Senate amended that figure to $9,000, so the council could only take 12 members. The Senate suggested other ways to save money, including flying to San Diego instead of taking a bus as they first intended.
The money the council saved can’t be spent in other ways than the Senate allocated, Lindsay said. All student fee money that isn’t spent on the specifically allocated event is supposed to be returned to USGD so it can be reallocated to other organizations.
“With any funding request … the money that they don’t use gets put back in the total of the programming fee,” Lindsay said.
Lindsay said the council members didn’t even follow the food waiver form they illegally filed. The request specifies the money only be spent on lunch and dinner, but receipts gathered show they spent funds on cupcakes, Starbucks products and chewing gum.
One student also pocketed $20 of student fee money.
Addressing the extra money spent on registration for the conference, Wellwood said the original request was filed when registration only cost $200 per person. When students were finally registered, the price had gone up to $260, and they were “unaware the price was increased,” Wellwood said.
Wellwood said learning that they incorrectly spent money seven months after they went on the trip was shocking.
Director of Finance Sam Tongue said he didn’t catch this misuse of funds because the organization ended up using less on the trip than the $9,000 it was allocated.
If the members had spent more, the misuse would have come to government’s attention sooner, Tongue said.
At Friday’s meeting, Tongue said the decided-upon starting point for punishment for misspending student fee money is a year of a funding freeze where the council couldn’t request any money and a semester-long probation afterwards where they could only request a limited amount.
The Student Nutrition Council would most likely be unable to go to the conference without money from USGD. They received money from the Downtown student government last year to go on the same conference.
Wellwood said the Food and Nutrition Conference and Expo is an important event for students on the campus to attend. Students can learn from experts in their field across the country and Wellwood said the students who go represent ASU well.
“It’s beneficial to the student body that we go, so to not go would be unfortunate,” Wellwood said.
But Lindsay said the consequence depends on how willing they are to “make amends” and at the meeting their response was what he wanted.
“It’s obvious you’re wrong, but you’re not willing to make amends — that can’t happen,” Lindsay said.
Any decided-upon consequence will be announced at the next Senate meeting on March 16.
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