Concerns arise surrounding SFSS organization officer’s leave of absence

Former councillor Gabe Liosis discusses how the decision could severely impact the society due to lack of proper consultation

The photo is of the outside of the Student Union Building.
According to Liosis, SFSS staff are already reporting significant amounts of overtime. PHOTO: Kriti Monga / The Peak

By: Chloë Arneson, News Writer

During the Simon Fraser Student Society (SFSS) Council meeting of July 6, the current operations organizer, Ayesha Khan, raised concerns regarding the SFSS’ lack of action regarding the coverage of the position for when she goes on maternity leave. 

The representative for the Disability and Neurodiversity Alliance, Vivian Ly, asked president Helen Sofia Pahou to grant Khan time to speak on this issue. Pahou stated the matter would be best suited for in-camera discussion out of concern for the well-being of staff. Pahou noted she wanted to go in-camera so councillors could have full confidence when they are speaking. When asked to elaborate on her concerns by English councillor Gabe Liosis, Pahou said “I’m just going by Council policies and how I’ve interpreted [them], that is the only reason why.” Pahou believes it was in violation of policy R-9 to not move in-camera because human resource matters are included in their in-camera policies.

During Council meetings, some discussions can be moved in-camera, meaning the public is not permitted to listen to the conversation. “This is liable for ex-camera and [Khan] has confirmed that nothing she wants to share is sensitive,” said Ly. “This topic has been the topic of ex-camera discussion at executive meetings and the last Council meeting, so I think that should continue to be the case. I don’t understand why we need to move in-camera.”

Khan told Council she had announced her intention to take leave in March. At the time she was working with the past SFSS executive and had created an initial plan for backfilling her position. This plan was not enacted, however, as she was told no commitments could be made that would impact the current executives. The Peak could not confirm who told her this. 

These intentions were communicated to Pahou who, at the time, was in her transition period. “I had a discussion about the backfill with the current president in April and we revisited that plan in May, when her presidential term started,” said Khan.

Khan reached out to Pahou again at the end of May supplying the executive with a timeline of her planned leave, but noted she never received a response from Pahou. 

As her leave approached, she sent another recommendation during the first week of June, encouraging executives to act swiftly as she had not received a response regarding the issue. 

During the previous Council meeting on June 22, Khan attempted to add the subject to the meeting agenda, but was not recognized to speak. 

“The president knew that [Khan] was taking leave and a temporary replacement was needed, but no action was taken,” Liosis said. “Even if they started hiring a temporary replacement now [on July 6] there would not be enough time for training or transition.”

The Executive Committee intended to chose John Walsh, the current SFSS building manager, to take on the operations organizer’s duties. 

“The two roles are completely different from one another, and require completely different skill sets,” Liosis said in an email to the entire SFSS Council prior to their meeting on July 6. Liosis’ email expressed major concerns regarding the Executive Committee’s handling of the operations organizer’s leave of absence.

The operations organizer position is simply way too much work to do alongside another position,” Liosis explained. The SFSS building manager is responsible for the student union building, with duties including overseeing maintenance, repair, security, and renovations. This position requires them to perform a variety of daily tasks in-person, dealing with issues such as security issues and building emergencies that may arise within the building at a moment’s notice. 

The operations organizer, whose duties would have been added on top of the existing expectations of the building manager, is responsible for providing support to the SFSS through human resources. The operations organizer supports the executives and Council with daily administrative tasks including financial management, addressing councillors’ needs, and ensuring the SFSS is operating well. 

Liosis voiced concerns about the society’s ability to provide adequate services and advocacy to its membership given the “operational implications and effects these decisions will have on the SFSS staff team.”

In his email to Council, Liosis said he disapproves “of the Executive Committee’s plan for the operations organizer portfolio to be undertaken by the building manager on top of his existing portfolio.”

Liosis predicted burnout will spread throughout the SFSS, specifically burdening the president, who “will be required to put in a lot more time focusing on the HR side of the organization.” In his email to the Council, he expressed concerns this decision will restrict the SFSS’ ability to improve their advocacy and services. “It will undermine the quality of support we can provide for the rest of our staff,” Liosis added.

He further noted the SFSS Executive Committee has demonstrated a “lack of transparency” on this matter.

The Peak reached out to Pahou for more information, but she declined to comment, citing the issue involved “HR matters that are sensitive to staff well-being.” She stated in her written response to The Peak that councillors are to refrain from commenting on this issue, writing they are in “no position to be speaking on this matter.”

Liosis criticized the president’s response. “It’s quite undemocratic, actually,” he said. “As a former SFSS president, I would never even begin to ask members of Council not to speak to the media if that’s what they wished to do. It’s a democratic right.”

The Peak also reached out to Liosis to find out more about his concerns.

“This Executive Committee ran quite heavily on a platform of transparency and frankly I’m not seeing that,” said Liosis.

If councillors are discussing the position itself or Council’s inability to “meet critical and minimal operational requirements in order for this organisation to run effectively,” Liosis stated. “The president has no right or authority to tell a member of Council or anyone for that matter not to comment on this issue.”

Liosis mentioned Khan had reached out multiple times to the president and the Executive Committee to form a plan for her leave. The Peak was unable to independently verify this. Along with multiple emails, she attempted to bring up the subject at a previous Council meeting, but was not recognized to speak. Liosis explained one of the reasons this decision to amalgamate positions might have been made is because Khan was not able to advise Council against the ramifications it might have. Liosis’s email noted Pahou “undemocratically, failed to recognize her to speak [in the June 22 Council meeting]. This is against the Council Policies (R-7.12), which stipulate that all staff members have speaking rights at Council meetings.”

To resolve the situation, Liosis suggests the simplest solution would have been to hire a temporary replacement to fill the position during the current operations organizer’s absence. 

On July 29, The Peak received notice that “Sindhu Dharmarajah has been appointed to the position of Temporary Operations Organizer.” 

This is a developing story and The Peak will be following up in future issues.