After spending more than five hours Wednesday debating and discussing charges of irresponsible leadership, manipulation, disrespect and unethical behavior against Students’ Association Congress President Daniel Paul Watkins, the SA Congress voted to impeach Watkins, immediately stripping him of his title and responsibilities as president.
The SA Congress voted 25-5, with two members abstaining, in a closed hearing Wednesday to impeach Watkins, senior political science major from Fredericksburg, Va. Watkins, who was elected by 59.5 percent of students that voted in last April’s general elections, is the first SA Congress president to be impeached in ACU’s history.
Sarah Pulis, senior political science major from Longview, succeds Watkins as the new student body president, vacaing her office as vice president. SA Congress will hold a general election where the student body will vote to fill the vacant vice president position.
Pulis declined to comment. Watkins said the action was unconstitutional and was considering challenging the impeachment.
Watkins’ impeachment hearing began in Hart Auditorium and moved to Room 115 of the Biblical Studies Building after going on for more than two hours. The meeting began at 5 p.m., and Freshman Sen. Zach Linge, digital media major from San Antonio, said the hearing was a heated exchange and a “circus” at times.
“It was clear to me and the overall majority of the executive officers that [Watkins’] attitude is negative, manipulative, divisive, and it is clear to me he is not the type of president that should reflect Abilene Christian University,” Linge said.
Sophomore Sen. Scott Adrian, political science major from Glendale, Calif., was surprised Watkins was impeached and said the impeachment process seemed unfair.
“He was more progressive than anyone,” Adrian said. “He’s a student advocate more than anyone in the Students’ Association.”
Chief Financial Officer Luke Cochran, junior accounting major from Round Rock, wrote Watkins on Wednesday, informing him of charges he was bringing against the former president and that he was pursuing impeachment and Watkins’ removal from office.
According to the letter Cochran wrote to Watkins, he claimed Watkins failed “to lead the Students’ Association in a positive manner,” showed “disrespect for the Abilene Christian University community” and failed to “adhere to the ethical standards of conduct as noted in the Abilene Christian University Campus Policies.”
Executive officers said Watkins had encouraged dissent among them and SA Congress members by speaking over his time limits during meetings and treating members with disrespect. They said he also made “snide” comments toward Dr. John Willis, Burton Coffman Chair of Biblical Studies and professor of Old Testament, during a Congress meeting that resulted in Willis questioning whether or not he should return to the next week’s meeting. Watkins also allegedly called Dr. Caron Gentry, assistant professor of Honors Studies and political science, a vulgar name and referred to Dr. Jean-Noel Thompson, vice president and dean for Student Life, multiple times as “a snake in the grass.” They also said he had broken office equipment, totaling more than $400.
None of the charges were related to last September’s incident when Watkins said he found a noose in his office chair.
Thompson said he and SA Congress co-adviser Jeff Arrington, associate professor of physics and associate dean of Student Life, developed a process for impeachment after collaborating with legal counsel to make sure the process was fair for the accused officer and those who were issuing the charges.
No procedure for impeachment of an executive officer existed before, and Congress did not vote on the procedure implemented for Watkins’ hearing.
The executive officers, including Watkins, approved the impeachment process, according to an e-mail sent to the student body from the executive officers Thursday night.
After Cochran submitted his charges to Watkins, the procedure called for Pulis to organize a meeting of the executive officers not being charged, so they could hear the cases of both the accusing member and the officer being charged. The executive officers voted 4-1 to bring the issue before Congress.
Pulis; Treasurer Spencer Hemphill, senior accounting major from Longview; Secretary Brianna Allen, senior exercise science major from Abilene, and Chief Communication Officer Lauren Sanders, senior graphic design major from Houston, all supported the impeachment. Parliamentarian Caleb Archer, senior political science major from Southlake, voted to keep Watkins in office.
The Wednesday meeting was closed to the public.
Cochran presented and explained the charges, and Watkins was allowed five minutes to rebut each charge. Congress members were able to ask both Cochran and Watkins questions before both were excused from the meeting, so members could debate.
Four of the five other executive officers for the SA Congress argued for the impeachment.
Cochran presented the official charges to Watkins at the beginning of the meeting, and Watkins was able to defend himself against these charges. However, he could not defend himself against the accusations and stories told in the testimonials because he no longer was present. Archer said these new charges were not official charges, and a quarter of the new charges were mentioned in previous cabinet meetings.
Watkins agreed he and his accuser would be required to leave the meeting before the executive officers and Congress members gave testimonials. The main issue Watkins and Archer had was that the members presented new charges in their testimonials.
Many Congress members said while Watkins’ rhetoric and relations with people are unmatched, his productivity and character were questionable.
The vote for impeachment was recorded on secret ballots and counted by Arrington and Thompson.
According to the SA Congress By-Laws, 75 percent of the votes are needed to proceed with the impeachment. The 25 votes for impeachment counted for more than 83 percent of the total.
The SA Congress Constitution also states a vote of three-fourths of the entire SA Congress was required for impeachment. Thompson e-mailed every Congress member and told them they were required to attend the Wednesday meeting. But when not enough Congress members came to the meeting, Archer told the SA Congress advisers that the impeachment process could not constitutionally continue. The advisers overruled Archer and denied his request to stop the proceedings, a right he said they held.
Voted to impeach Watkins:
Aaron Michael Escobedo, Education Building rep.
Amie Cavitt, Don Morris rep.
Brent Dill, Junior senator
Byron Martin, Senior senator
Daniel Burgner, Junior senator
Jared Elk, Edwards Hall rep.
Jordan Hancock, Administration Building rep.
Ryan Gertner, Chambers Hall rep.
Steven Cardona, Junior senator
Zach Linge, Freshman senator
Voted to not impeach Watkins:
Danielle Urias, Sophomore senator
Kyle Pickens, Senior senator
Scott Adrian, Sophomore senator
Abstained from vote:
Erin Kessler, Senior senator
Chose not to reveal vote:
Grant Boston, Junior senator
Hailey Clinton, Freshman senator
Kelly Lytle, Freshman senator
Laura Christine Ruiz, Gibson rep.
Could not be reached:
Jacob Groves, Freshman senator
Carson Henley, Freshman senator
Karissa Wolf, Sophomore senator
Stacey Klinge, Barret Hall rep.
Julianne Hart, Gardner Hall rep.
Jake Hutto, Mabee Hall rep.
Connor Best, Mabee Hall rep.
Keri Gray, McDonald Hall rep.
Melanie Wheeler, Morris Hall rep.
Amanda Paramore, Sikes Hall rep.
Sarah Whitworth, Smith-Adams Hall rep.
Ashley Alton, Administration Building rep.
Chris Shim, Off-Campus rep.
Kyle Moore, Off-Campus rep.
Kyle Smith, COBA rep.
Trevor Brunt, COBA rep.
Matt Mastalka, COBA rep.
Stephen Moore, COBA rep.
Nathan Pickle, Foster Science Building rep.
Colter Lane, Foster Science Building rep.
Breanna Anderson, Chambers Hall rep.
Randy Woods, Don Morris rep.
Chris Simpson, Zone Luce rep.
Minda Hyde, Gibson rep.
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