SGA Member Leaks Proposed Condemnation of PantherNOW

A copy of the drafted Senate Resolution provided to PantherNOW via a confidential source.

Michael McEwen and Elise Gregg / Assistant News Directors

An anonymous source leaked a drafted resolution by Student Government Association Senate members condemning PantherNOW, claiming it could possibly be in violation of SGA statutes and may have been used to influence allocations six months later.

The source, who stated they wished to remain anonymous for personal and professional reasons, emailed the drafted legislation regarding PantherNOW’s article, Hundreds of Maskless Students Crowd Greek Life Party, which was published on Aug. 26.  

Titled Condemnation of Yellow Journalism Within PantherNOW, the bill would have officially condemned PantherNOW for reporting the lack of masks used at a Greek Life BBQ last fall. The resolution also claims to be in accordance with a similar statement released by SGA under the Rosell administration in 2020.  

The article covered the event – as well as the lack of COVID-19 precautions amid the context of rising Delta variant cases at the time – and statements made by FIU and Miami-Dade leaders only a day before encouraging students to stay safe during the pandemic. 

In the legislation, SIPA senators David Luis and Alex Sutton, as well as Senate President Nicholas Pastrana, allege that yellow journalism was used via a red herring technique, leading people to believe that FIU COVID-19 policy was broken. 

“PantherNOW has crudely exaggerated sensationalism by stating ‘FIU suggests wearing masks inside, but none were worn at the event held outside of the Graham Center on the Modesto Maidique Campus,’” the legislation reads. 

However, the article explicitly states multiple times that FIU encourages – not mandates – students to wear masks, making it clear that no policy was broken. 

The proposed condemnation of PantherNOW for “yellow journalism” from an anonymous source. 

The source said that to their knowledge, Pastrana and Sutton were the main authors of the bill, with Luis joining in.

In separate interviews with PantherNOW, each of the senate members had conflicting accounts. 

“David Luis wrote that piece of legislation,” said Sutton. “It has my name on it because he did include me as a sponsor…but I was gonna ask him to take my name off.” 

Luis claimed he was not the original author, and refused to tell PantherNOW who was. 

“I didn’t write it,” said Luis. “I promised I wasn’t going to say who wrote it.” 

Pastrana also denied being the original author and said his name being on the draft does not mean he supported it.

“I know it was not myself,” said Pastrana. “Anyone knows how to type my name and put it into a Word document.” 

Pastrana also claimed that his name may have been put on the draft so that the bill would have more support if it was voted on in the senate. 

However, the bill never made it to the Senate floor. 

“It was scrapped after being addressed in senate as a possible legal issue and may be used as evidence if there were cuts to PantherNow’s budget,” said the anonymous source. 

The bill was drafted shortly after Sutton’s letter to the editor over the FSL BBQ, according to him.  Shortly after that, Sutton said SGA President Alexander Rubido then spoke to him, Pastrana, and Luis to communicate that it was an unnecessary piece of legislation. 

Normally a bill is sent to the senate president, who assigns it to two committees. After that, the committees vote on the legislation, and from there the bill is sent to the Senate to vote on. 

However, Pastrana said that after a conversation with the original author, the bill was scrapped. 

“I was not the person who had the conversation with that senator,” said Pastrana, “but I know that there was a conversation that was had and they ended up retracting.”

When asked why the bill was drafted, to begin with, Luis said that SGA tends to draft a high number of resolutions when they’re unable to draft actual legislation. 

“We’re barred in the sense of our legislative powers with the SGA governing documents,” said Luis. “We’re not able to take any actual legislative power within the statutes until 80 calendar weeks of the passage of the constitution, so resolutions are about anything that we that we’re able to think of, and any issues that students may have.” 

When asked what the bill would have achieved, Sutton said it was a seal of disapproval from SGA regarding PantherNOW’s story. 

“In terms of actual effect, zero,” Sutton said. “Resolutions are pretty much just words on paper that say everybody in student government agrees with the words on this piece of paper, but they don’t really actually take any effect.”

At that point, Sutton had already written a letter to the editor about the FSL BBQ article. 

“With a budget of $280,000, paid for by student fees, the student body deserves a Student Media that does some original reporting and gets its own quotes and photos for the stories it writes,” Sutton said in the letter.

When asked whether it was common to discuss budgets six months before deliberations began, Sutton said it was unusual. 

“Usually, it’s the day that we’re voting on the budget of the year,” said Sutton “That is when we pretty much discuss all of the funding of all the budgets.” 

Further, Pastrana said resolutions like this one are also unusual for SGA to draft. 

“I can tell you those are pretty uncommon,” Pastrana said. 

Pastrana attempted to find the author by searching for an email of the original document during the interview, but said he was unable to find any emails of Sutton or Luis sending it to him. 

PantherNOW attempted to clarify questions about the resolution with the authors, but conflicting accounts have made it difficult to accurately determine the original author, why and how the bill was ultimately scrapped, and what purpose the bill would serve if passed. 

Further, PantherNOW attempted to get more detailed information on the senate meetings in which the budget was brought up, but the meeting minutes have no mention either of a vote on or a discussion of the resolution in question. Instead, only a public forum speech by Sutton reiterating his letter to the editor is included in the transcript. 

The only mention of Sutton’s discussion. / SGA Minutes

Multiple requests made for Zoom recording(s) of the Aug.30 senate meeting–in an attempt to independently verify details shared by sources present–were denied by SGA Advisor Larissa James, as well as Dr. Michelle Castro and FIU’s general counsel Iris Elijah.

“As mentioned in the phone call, we do not share the Zoom recordings,” stated James in an email. “We use them to ensure we capture the information for the minutes.” 

Florida Sunshine Law outlines rules of public records access and states that records such as Zoom recordings should be made available to the public upon request, especially since FIU is a public university. 

Currently, SGA’s advisors and FIU’s general counsel have not explained any exemptions that would allow them to withhold the records. 

The anonymous source claims that the resolution, along with earlier remarks about PantherNOW’s budget, presents a conflict of interest with the senate members, according to section 8002 of SGA governing documents: 

  • 8002.1 No Student Government Official shall participate in any SGA activity that would place that person in a position where there may be a conflict of interest between a private interest and the interest of the Student Body.   
  • 8002.2 No Senator shall cast a vote in any bill, resolution, or appropriation that would place that Senator in a position where there may be a conflict of interest between a private interest and the interest of the Student Body.   
  • 8002.3 No Student Government Official shall participate in any SGA activity or represent Student Government as a Student Government Official in any action or activity in which there may be a personal benefit made that directly conflicts with the interest and benefit of the Student Body.   

“The very proposal is a serious implication as it would be used to influence to cut,” the source said in regard to PantherNOW’s budget, which was ultimately increased from the previous year during February’s budget deliberations.

The source added that the authors are members of Fraternity and Sorority Life–which they claim  could have influenced their comments on PantherNOW’s budget–as well as their role in budgetary decisions.

At the time the legislation was written, Sutton was an active member of the Theta Chi fraternity, and prior to becoming Senate President, Pastrana served as the President of the Interfraternal Council. Recently, Luis became a founding father of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity, which is set to arrive on campus in the Fall.

Pastrana sat on the budget committee in February, and Sutton was supposed to as well, if not for being replaced by Valentina Casanova last minute. 

“He was supposed to be the person,” said Pastrana. “That plan had been in place for a good four to six months.”

The authors argued that the resolution and earlier comments aren’t a conflict of interest with their involvement in deciding PantherNOW’s budget.

“Sutton voicing frustration about something, I don’t think that that’s enough ground to determine conflicting interests,” said Pastrana. “There’s nothing that separates him from just any general student…it’s freedom of speech.