FAMU Student Government President Fights Impeachment
By Margie Menzel
The News Service of Florida
Florida A&M University student-body president Tonnette Graham — who sits on the boards that govern FAMU and the state university system — is fighting an impeachment effort that threatens her tenure in office.
The potential impeachment adds to controversies surrounding the Tallahassee campus, as university trustees are embroiled in a series of clashes between trustees Chairman Rufus Montgomery and President Elmira Mangum. Graham also serves on the trustees and on the state university system’s Board of Governors through her role as chairwoman of the Florida Student Association.
The allegation against Graham — malfeasance of duty — concerns a student budget dispute. The upshot was a 16-2 vote by student senators Monday to impeach her as president of the FAMU Student Government Association. On Wednesday, FAMU Student Senate President Derek Anthony Keaton asked the chief justice of the student supreme court to schedule a hearing on the matter.
Keaton told The News Service of Florida that Graham had “overstepped her authority” and “completely circumvented the checks and balances of the student budgeting process.”
He also said she had inflated the cost of some items in the budget and deflated the cost of others.
“The problem with that is there were changes made without the consent of the Student Senate,” Keaton said. Had he known of the changes, he said, he would have called a special session to address it.
Earlier Wednesday, FAMU Vice President for Student Affairs William Hudson released an Aug. 13 memo addressed to Graham, Keaton, Mangum and others acknowledging the budget dispute and defending Graham’s role in it.
Hudson noted that the 2015-2016 FAMU Student Government Association budget had contained an error that would have left the organization without funds for months.
Graham and two student senators worked with the university’s budget office to remedy the error, Hudson wrote. “If they hadn’t, the SGA budget would not have been approved during the July Board of Trustees meeting,” and that would have prevented the expenditure of any SGA funds until the next trustees meeting in November.
In the memo, Hudson also alluded to disagreements between Keaton and Graham about the budget issue. Hudson, whose duties include oversight of the Student Government Association, urged Keaton to put the dispute aside.
“While I understand you may not agree with the process or how the situation was handled, Trustee Graham made the best decision with the time she had in the interest of the student body,” Hudson wrote. “Moving forward, I encourage all student leaders to work together to ensure that the budget is completed during the time outlined in the documents so that these issues do not occur in the future.”
Keaton, however, accused Graham of bad faith, a lack of communication and “overreach of her constitutional duties.”
Graham, meanwhile, released a statement Wednesday defending her actions.
“My efforts to resolve this matter short of … a battle were rebuffed by certain Senate leaders and their supporters,” she wrote. “It’s clear that they were not interested in bringing an end to this matter or obtaining the information they claimed to seek. Ultimately, their goal was the vote they now have engineered. This vote may make for good political theater in the minds of some, but it is — at base — both a crass effort and a grave disservice to the FAMU students.”