Long-failing bylaw changes pass at AGM with a fraction of 'yes' votes needed in past referendums

At the first AMS annual general meeting (AGM) to reach quorum since 2014, over 1,400 students at its peak gathered virtually to deliberate bylaw changes, vote on proposals and enter to win $4,000 in prizes.

But with gift card prize incentives came frequent questions from attendees on procedures and fairness of the votes, specifically on the records bylaw change.

With seven motions on the agenda — including two omnibus bylaw changes, the removal of Student Court and a records bylaw change — the AMS executive hoped for a quorate meeting as a last hurrah at passing motions that had repeatedly fallen short in referendums past.

Notably, the AGM only needed one per cent of its membership — 583 members — to attend to meet quorum. The bylaw changes all received between 600 and 900 ‘yes’ votes. In previous elections, eight per cent of the society’s active members needed to vote in favour of a referendum — last year this number was 4,647 ‘yes’ votes — for the changes to pass. At an October 8 AMS Council meeting, councillors called this disparity in the threshold needed for changes to pass “unethical.”

Records bylaw change narrowly approved

A motion to change the society’s records bylaw narrowly garnered the two-thirds of votes in favour needed to pass, coming in at just over the threshold with 671 “yes” votes. 273 attendees voted against the policy and 363 abstained.

The records bylaw change would allow Council to keep records confidential when their disclosure could harm the financial or economic interests of the AMS, security of buildings or computer systems or “disrupt an ongoing investigation, violate solicitor-client privilege, or reveal in camera discussions.”

The discussion was only 8 minutes on this motion due to early calls to have a vote. This was shorter than the 15 minutes of discussion surrounding the other bylaw changes. The meeting saw students regularly rising to express concern and support for the motions but was marked by continual requests for the advertised prizes to be drawn — which, due to the amount of discussion, happened nearly an hour later than the agenda predicted.

AMS President Cole Evans mentioned several times leading up to the vote that prize draw entry would take place immediately following the records policy motion, which some students speculated led attendees to vote without consideration to move to the prize entry.

Cooper and Evans highlighted the new wording of the records change to ensure the society wouldn’t take advantage of the change. But some attendees were skeptical, advocating that students vote ‘no’ to protect transparency.

A moment of contention came when some students called for a revote given how close it was.

Evans, also acting as chair of the AGM, ruled on his interpretation that Robert’s Rules of Order allow for Zoom polls to be binding. Later calls for a recount were rejected.

Fourth time’s the charm

The AMS also finally succeeded in passing a host of bylaw changes that failed to meet quorum as referendums in three consecutive elections. The first package for past proposed changes didn’t include the AMS records-handling bylaw and the removal of Student Court, two changes that were the most controversial in the past, as those changes were separated out to be voted on individually.

Student Court was abolished when the third motion passed, with executives fielding questions on why the court didn’t have more power and where else the society would go for legal advice. Sebastian Cooper, chair of the AMS governance committee, noted that the society has legal counsel for official legal advice.

The AGM passed an omnibus bill for new proposed changes. These new proposals include grammatical corrections, no longer requiring yearly financial reports from clubs and constituencies as the society rarely did this due to the sheer number of clubs and striking The Ubyssey’s name from the bylaws to reflect the paper’s independence.

Get that bread, then leave

After the entry for the advertised $4,000 in prizes, students began filing out in the hundreds as the AMS executives gave their reports, with Evans acknowledging a large amount left during his and the VP finance’s reports. As a result, Evans said the AGM lost the requisite number of students just before the seventh and final vote.

Later, Evans addressed student concern over the loss of quorum, saying that the society was no longer able to accept the VP finance’s report and re-appoint D&H Group as the society’s auditors. In a later interview, Evans clarified that despite the motion not passing, according to the Societies Act, if a motion to appoint auditors does not pass at an AGM, the auditors from the previous year are automatically re-appointed.

The meeting ended with a townhall of just under 300 students, where the executive took questions regarding the ongoing privacy assessment for CampusBase after a student email leak — which they promised to release — and compliments from others regarding the structure and proceedings of the AGM.

The first quorate AGM in a generation, plus the ensuing townhall, lasted over three hours.

Breakdown of the motions

  • Motion 2: Past Proposed Changes. Around 15 minutes of debate. Final vote as 812 votes in favour, 118 against, 387 abstentions.
  • Motion 3: Removal of Student Court. Around 14 minutes of debate, discussion closed by a passed motion to call the question. Final vote, 859 in favour, 138 against, 310 abstentions.
  • Motion 4: New Proposed Changes. Around 14 minutes of debate, discussion closed by a passed motion to call the question. Final vote, 789 in favour, 107 against, 360 abstentions.
  • Motion 5: Updates to Records Bylaw. Around 8 minutes of debate, discussion closed by a passed motion to call the question. Final vote, 671 in favour, 273 against, 363 abstentions.
  • Motion 6: Report from the President and Managing Director. Around 2 minutes of debate, discussion closed by a passed motion to call the question. Final vote, 420 in favour, 35 against, 141 abstentions.
  • Motion 7: Financial Statements and Auditors. Around 6 minutes of debate. Final vote, 345 in favour, 18 against, 81 abstentions. This motion did not pass due to a loss of quorum during the vote

This article was updated to clarify that Motion 7 did not pass due to loss of quorum.