SGA branches conflict over website development

SGA branches conflict over website development

The SGA website has standard website links like an About Us section or an archive of passed legislation, but the About Us section is blank and the only legislation available is from last year's government.

Some senators find the blank pages on the SGA website problematic, while members of the executive branch see it as part of the development process. 

“You can click on my link, and it will bring you to an error page,” said Sen. Marissa Navarro, a junior majoring in international studies and Spanish. “That doesn’t really help anyone.”

Navarro made the first move after proposing a resolution to the senate on Jan. 25 that promoted and enforced transparency within the SGA. The resolution, which passed unanimously, specifically targeted the webmaster and the executive secretary, asking general information like contact information, information from Senate meetings or any other information from SGA events be given to the webmaster within two weeks of its occurrence and then published no more than two weeks later.

Navarro said the website was “very bare” and went through a checklist of items the SGA doesn’t have on the website, such as the meeting times of the senate.

Sponsor of the bill, Sen. Darby McQueen, a senior majoring in social work, echoed Navarro’s sentiment.

“I think that there just needs to be a really serious conversation about how are we managing it,” McQueen said.  “I feel like that sometimes, when things get established, that there’s not set guidelines.”

Webmaster Alexander Wilson, a sophomore majoring in electrical and computer engineering, said the resolution feels unwarranted. 

“While I respect Senator Navarro’s work in the senate, I believe that this is unnecessary,” Wilson said. “No one from the senate has ever contacted or reached out to me about anything having to do with the website.”

Director of Media Relations Sierra Stockley said in a statement that a conversation about the resolution among the executive branch was forthcoming, but since the legislation is a resolution, any consequence stemming from it would be non-binding. 

“The executive branch values the work of members of the Senate, and this oversight resolution will be discussed as an entire branch, as it affects us all,” Stockley said.  “That being said, this specific piece of legislation is in accordance with the core values of both remaining transparent and having checks-and-balances, though it is non-binding.”

Wilson and Executive Secretary Stephanie Gaytan said the website, which is currently been undergoing a major transformation, will be up and running soon and key information is still available for those who ask.  

“I continue to work with the rest of the executive cabinet to be sure that anything I can’t get up on the site in time – applications, meeting news, Code of Laws, etc. – can be posted elsewhere for students to view,” Wilson said.  

However, just as in the most recent special election, the candidates weren't posted until the day before. Many pieces of information slip through the cracks. 

“It’s lacking a place for student concerns. It’s lacking legislation,” Navarro said.  “The only legislation that I saw is from the Senate before us.”

Gaytan said the website has been slow to update since it wasn't working until the start of the semester.

“We’re kind of just in the process of transferring all of that content from last semester as well as the first couple weeks of this semester onto that website,” Gaytan said. 

Wilson said in an email he believed the SGA website could be better, but it's in a transition phase under the University right now. 

“Since the University is currently working with SGA on restructuring the site and have taken more of the managerial position on it, it is not possible to change the way it is being run at the moment,” Wilson said. “I am currently the only one that has access to edit the website. My cabinet has not had access since the University took over in August, but I hope to have them be a part of the process as soon as the website improves.”

Wilson said the University has control for the sake of uniformity.

“The University took over for the purpose of uniformity among all websites dealing with the University,” Wilson said. 

Gaytan said it's necessary for the website to meet the standards of the Office of Student Life and Strategic Communications.

“Last semester again was really just getting the basic functionality back and being able to edit the website,” Gaytan said. “There [are] so many different standards that we have to meet, and people that we have to go through in order to approve just the look of it.”

Wilson said during the restructuring he doesn't have access to all of the usual tools of the webmaster.

“I can only edit certain content and cannot use the powerful abilities commonly associated with the framework due to restrictions from the University,” Wilson said.  

The Crimson White has reached out to the University for comment, but hadn't heard back by the time of publishing. 

Wilson said he does not believe the SGA lacks transparency despite the website issues.

“Even though this information that has been listed is not on the website, does not mean that SGA is trying to hide anything,” Wilson said.  “Students and faculty alike can always email or go to the SGA office and request certain information.”

Students can email the SGA office at info@sga.ua.edu or call them at 205-348-2742 during business hours. 

Gaytan said the website seems so sparse because the content needs to be approved, not because the SGA is withholding it. 

“All of those errors are essentially just because the content hasn’t been fully approved or hasn’t been fully uploaded in the format that it needs to be,” Gaytan said. “I wish we could upload a word doc file or a simple print pdf, but unfortunately it needs to be in a set format.” 

Gaytan said in an effort to fix the problem, a new SGA app for students is in the works to be more user friendly than the website for students and legislators alike.

“We’re actually in the process of creating a new SGA app,” said Gaytan. “We’re partnering with the MIS program and their Capstone Project in order to create a new app where students would be able to go in, see any of the applications and really get any kind of SGA information they needed.”

Gaytan said the application would provide user-friendly information for constituents as well as a page for senators to log in, track office hours and find legislation, among other things.

As it stands, however, senators and executive members don’t seem to be on the same page.

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