In a precedent-setting move, the Student Safety and Security Committee granted $15,000 in student fees to Buzz Rides — the for-profit taxi service founded by UNC students last year.
The grant was approved by members of the University's legal counsel Wednesday after being passed in a committee meeting on May 6. The money was officially given to the Campus Y, which will provide oversight to how Buzz Rides uses the money. Buzz Rides is part of the CUBE program at the Campus Y.
Buzz Rides provides free rides home for students living off-campus. The company originally put in its own request for money almost seven months ago, said Student Body President Andrew Powell.
Buzz Rides makes its profits from selling advertisements on its electric carts.
“It was a great option, it appeared to us, to fulfill a clear need,” said Tyler Jacon, chairman of the Student Safety and Security Committee. “And UNC is such a leader in trying to promote student entrepreneurship, so it was a silver bullet for that.”
The group's decision meant there was not enough money left in their budget to fully fund Safewalk, the student group that provides students free walks home from campus locations on weeknights, for the fall semester.
The move drew criticism from members of Student Congress during their meeting Tuesday night.
Josh Aristy, chair of the student congress finance committee, said it violated the Student Code, which dictates that the appropriations from the Student Safety and Security Committee only go to student organizations or campus departments — categories Aristy said don’t include a for-profit company like Buzz Rides.
The Student Safety and Security Committee’s May 6 meeting is now being challenged by former Speaker of Student Congress Connor Brady, who brought a lawsuit against Jacon in the Student Supreme Court.
In his lawsuit, Brady said Jacon failed to follow North Carolina’s Open Meetings law, which requires student groups to give the public 48 hours notice of a meeting’s time and location.
Brady said the Student Safety and Security Committee posted about the May 6 meeting on its Facebook page just 47 hours before the group was scheduled to meet.
Because the committee decided to have a last second meeting, Brady, who graduated Sunday, said he had to file a last second lawsuit to stop the committee from violating the Student Code.
“This is an issue — we’re giving money to a for-profit business,” Brady said. “We wrote (the Student Code) that way so we could keep for-profit businesses from benefiting from student fees.”
In his response before the Student Supreme Court, Jacon didn’t deny his commission failed to give adequate notice of its meeting — which he said happened because the group’s website was down that day.
Jacon questioned Brady’s standing before the court.
“He’s no longer a student,” Jacon said in a phone interview late Monday night. “He graduated two days ago now and not in a position to really file a case in the Supreme Court.”
But Brady said since he filed the case before he graduated, he thinks his lawsuit will stand.
“If he hadn’t had an illegal meeting with five days left in my senior year then we wouldn’t have a problem,” Brady said.
Hours before the Student Safety and Security Committee was scheduled to meet, the group realized it wouldn’t meet quorum — the necessary number of members present to make a decision.
To allow the group to meet quorum, Student Body President Powell made provisional appointments of at least one student who could attend the meeting and vote on the proposed Buzz Rides funding.
The group was set to have a budget surplus if it didn’t allocate the funds, so Powell said he wanted to make sure the meeting happened so the committee members could balance their budget.
“Fortunately, there is that provision that the Student Body President can make provisional appointments,” Powell said. “That way we don’t have this massive surplus.”
Brady said he will ask the Student Supreme Court to make a summary judgment in the case because Jacon didn’t disagree with the fact that he failed to give the public a timely notice of the May 6 meeting. If the court rules in Brady's favor, all of the business in the May 6 meeting would be void.
Brady said the court might have to still go through pretrial activities to establish Brady has standing in the court. He is unsure of the timeline of the case going forward.
“Ultimately, (Jacon) didn’t deny the fact that the meeting happened without proper notice,” Brady said. “I think the court will understand that excuses can come up, but I think the court will ultimately say the student code is not a place for excuses. It’s something you follow or not follow.”
‘An economics decision’
Safewalk also had a budget request before the Student Safety and Security Committee for about $14,000.
When the committee opted to give $15,000 to Buzz Rides, that meant the group only fulfilled about $2,000 of Safewalk’s budget request.
Safewalk gave about 9,000 walks last academic year, whereas Buzz Rides gave about 20,000 rides, said Jacon, the chairman of the Student Safety and Security Committee.
“For us it was an economics decision,” Jacon said. “It was the fact we’ve been working with (Buzzrides) for so long. And three, we thought it was a good precedent to set.”
During the Student Congress meeting Monday, members worried Safewalk would cease to exist if the group didn’t get the funding it needed to pay employee salaries next semester.
But Powell said he will make sure Safewalk gets the funding it needs.
“Mark my words,” he said. “We’ll have Safewalk here in the fall."
When the Student Safety and Security Committee voted to give Buzz Rides the $15,000 during its May 6 meeting, Student Body Treasurer Brittany Best immediately froze the committee’s account to allow time for members of the University’s legal counsel to review the decision.
“It’s very hard to get money back so it was just making sure we did that right,” said Kyle Villemain, the student body vice president.
Villemain and Powell said they met with members of the University’s legal counsel and representatives from the Campus Y Wednesday, where they were given the go-ahead to release the money.
Armed with approval from the University’s legal counsel, Best said she only needs to review the contract with the Campus Y to ensure the money is handled appropriately before she unfreezes the funds.
Powell said he’s not worried the Safety and Security Committee’s decision will allow for future companies to use student groups like the Campus Y as a front for profitting off student fees.
“That’s why we have a process, and that’s why it’s not an automated process.” he said. “It’s a particular case. Ultimately, these things go through a vetted process.”
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