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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Issue 3. 15th March [1976]

EXEC; the Message Finally Got Through

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EXEC; the Message Finally Got Through

Photo of the VUWSA Exec. panel including Steve Underwood; Mike Curtis; Angela Casselberg; Gyles Beckford; Peter Aagaard; Rae Mazengarb; Anthony Ward

The shooting gallery; (left to right) Steve Underwood; Mike Curtis; Angela Casselberg; Gyles Beckford; Peter Aagaard; Rae Mazengarb; Anthony Ward.

About 300 students gathered in the Union Hall last Wednesday for the most controversial meeting since the abortion motions last year. These students, representing about 5% of the Students Association, came to hear arguments, and to vote, on the motion 'That this Association has no confidence in the Executive.' The motion arose from the Exec's mysterious dismissal of Mrs Rosemary Goodall, the Studass Office Manager, last month.

Exec Reprimand

The first speaker was the mover, Robert Lithgow, who began by stressing that he was not merely 'out for blood', but thought it our duty to reprimand our executive for what he felt was a misuse of our power. His first objection was that nobody outside the Exec know the reason behind Mrs Goodall's dismissal, and he wasn't satisfied by the 'if you know what I know you'd agree' attitude.

He commended Mrs Goodall's conduct from his experiences of working with her as returning officer last year and quoted a piece from this year's Handbook, which spoke of her in glowing terms, especially her knowledge on 'all aspects of the Students' Association.' Obviously something had changed!

He also read extracts from Salient in which Gyles Beckford had said that the office was running 'particularly smoothly', and everybody seemed happy, while Steve Underwood said that the uneasy situation there was serious.

His second objection was that Mrs Goodall was given no opportunity to reply to whatever it was she was accused of (nobody really know what it was, at that stage), and no time to try and improve whatever was wrong. This was a smack in the face of common justice.

Mrs Goodall Overpaid?

Robert then questioned the economic reasons given for her dismissal, - namely the claim that she wasn't doing an office manager's job, so that her wage was out of proportion with the work she was doing. He said that the practice of kicking out an employee, downgrading the job, and then hiring someone else at a lower rate was an extremely capitalist way of getting the same work done for less money - a trick that would 'do Bob Jones proud.'

His last point concerned the future protection of Association employees. What guarantee would they have that they wouldn't be sacked in the same abrupt manner? Are our employees to have no job security at all? This action seemed to go against the ideals of the Association - so he suggested a committee of three people be set up to establish a bill of rights for employees.

He finished by saying that his motion of no confidence involved all the Exec, not just those who voted for Mrs Goodall's dismissal. The whole point of the motion, he said, was to give each member of the Exec, to come clean and explain her or his views and actions.

After a bit of enthusiastic applause (i.e. any applause that you can hear), the seconder of the motion, Mark Sainsbury, got up and reinforced most of what Robert had said, stressing that he didn't know Mrs Goodall or the situation surrounding her dismissal. But that was the whole point. He was entitled to know, and, as an ordinary member of the Association, should have been informed. He sat down in silence, everyone having worn themselves out on the first burst of applause.

True Confessions

Then the Exec, members who voted for the dismissal began their defence with all the professionalism of a debating team.

The first speaker was Woman Vice-President, Rae Mazengarb, who told us that it had been a far from easy situation, and if there had been a viable alternative they would have taken it. No personal feelings were involved. She went on to consider the role of the office staff - to help the Exec. Without this help, Exec is hindered and can't function properly.

Rae said that Mrs Goodall's attitude was not helpful, especially some of her comments about members of the Exec, Mike Curtis in particular, who, Mrs Goodall claimed, had not helped her and was under Steve Underwood's influence anyway. She apparently instilled fear of Steve in the office workers by telling them to 'Look busy' when he was around - thereby turning him into some sort of ogre.

Rae also said that the Exec had a responsibility to the office staff, and shouldn't have to worry about internal conflict, much of which was being caused by Mrs Goodall. Rae said she had received complaints from the staff over Mrs Goodall's gossip about Exec and staff members, and one staff member actually resigned because of it. The whole matter came to a head when she hired a full-time telephonist (telephonists aren't usually full time) on a wage higher than that of the other office workers. Rae said that when Mrs Goodall's dismissal was announced, she found that another girl working in the office had been intending to resign the next day, because of Mrs Goodall.

Finally, she repeated that the decision had been a difficult one, taking two hours of discussion to reach, and was finally made reluctantly.

The Godfather Confesses

Hard on the heels of Rae Mazengarb came Steve Underwood, Man Vice-President. He moved the original motion that Mrs Goodall be dismissed and had two more reasons ready to back up his actions. The first was the employment of the telephonist. Mrs Goodall was exceeding her office in doing this, he said, and did not have the approval of the Executive.

He thought that the $90 per week wage was excessive considering that the typist received $85 and another employee, older than the telephonist and with a more 'wide-ranging' job, received $88. Mrs Goodall had taken the whole matter into her own hands then presented the 'package-deal' to Exec, with an added financial commitment of $2500 per year.

Steve's second reason was an extension of the financial objection. In 1975 $15,250 was paid out in wages by the Association. The projected figure for 1976 was $18,500 rising to $19,000 after a 3% wage increase - overall, a 25% increase on the 1975 figure. According to Steve, $19,000 is not justifiable and a serious look had to be taken at the situation.

In his opinion Mrs Goodall's work did not justify the slice of it that she received, and as an example he told us how she had taken over a year to settle the accounts for a pantomime and a revue, finally finishing only a week before auditing. He said that 'reorganization' of the office was started with Mrs Goodall's dismissal, and that Exec was acting in the best interests of the Association.

Emotive Display

Following him came Anthony Ward, who was the seconder of the original motion. For about the first minute he fairly roasted the meeting, saying how appalled he was at the reception given to Rae Mazengarb, and how we should trust our Exec. After calling us 'bloody stupid', he gave what struck me as being one of the most well-presented arguments I've heard (at least it did the first time through!).

He said that the Exec is not a great ego trip for its members but is there to run the Association smoothly for us, and needs our trust. He agreed that Mrs Goodall should have had the chance to defend herself on principle, but principles often come into conflict, and one has to be chosen above another, even though the other is important.

The Exec considered themselves in this position. On one hand the students of this Association have the right to an effective, functioning body, not split by internal divisions. On the other hand we have strong responsibilities to all our employees. Both of these principles were being threatened, and finally one was chosen above the other.

Ward's Experiences

One alternative to getting rid of Mrs Goodall was to give her a month to improve her work and conduct. Tony gave a couple of examples of this from his own experience. Both times, he said, it failed dismally, with work going at half-pace during the month. He felt this justified not trying it since the month-long period would have been mid-February to mid-March, which was an important period in the Association's year.

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Collection of photos of the Exec talking

Post cards of the Hanging

Another alternative would be to have a full scale inquiry, which, he felt, would have created more tensions than already existed. 'People working in the office would know they were working with people who considered them liars.' Anthony had spoken to Mrs Goodall about the matter and said the interview had not been easy for either of them.

The Exec was in a position where they had to decide who they believed and who they didn't. So they decided. Tony then paraphrased his speech a couple of times and sat down.

Suicidal Tendencies

The next to speak was John Henderson (he voted against Mrs Goodall's dismissal), who rubbished all previous arguments on the ground of some sort of vague political theory, revealing that he basically doesn't understand what's going on. He said he thought that voting against Mrs Goodall, and saying the things he was saying now, might be cutting his own throat, but principles were more important. Very gallant, but not very healthy.

Anne Dwyer, the Cultural Affairs Officer, then explained why she abstained from voting. She had no first-hand experience of the office situation - it was all hearsay (just as it was for all 200 students in the Hall at the time, preparing to vote). She had spent very little time in the office and did not know of the unease, and felt that he had no right to vote for or against a vital motion involving two extremes when her vote would be based upon second hand information. Making a stand on hearsay was against her principles.

Secretary was Absent

Following her came Peter Aagaard, the Association's secretary. He was absent from the Exec meeting when the decision to sack Mrs Goodall was made, and could only tell us of what he knew of her. He got along well with her, he said, working with her on housing accounts when he was accomodation officer. He felt that the personality of the office manager was more important than office efficiency. He wasn't aware of any tensions within the office, but said that one person cannot be expected to get along with everybody.

In his view, even though she was exceeding her office in hiring the telephonist, sacking her was pushing principles aside on grounds of expediency. Peter said that a vote of no confidence in the Exec would be a retrograde step. It was pointless putting one incident under the microscope and ignoring other parts of the Exec's working, such as the Bookshop, Trust Account, and general financial managing. Exec must go on!

Scott Wilson, Accomodation Officer, spoke next. He also was absent from the meeting, and was not in the office very often last year. Even so, his knowledge of Mrs Goodall's work, comprising mainly of seeing the financial accounts scribbled in pencil in a school exercise book, led him to support the Exec. If a vote of no confidence was passed, he said, he would resign.

President Admits Hiring

Next Gyles Beckford, esteemed President, after nearly being booted out of the Chair, told how he had dissented strongly to the motion. He said it was a complete denial of justice, because although a few office workers were involved, the finger had been pointed at just one.

He said he didn't think Tony Ward's objections to holding an inquiry were insurmountable, and that the Exec had been too quick to forget principle resulting in an unjust decision. Gyles said that in her three years as office manager Mrs Goodall had worked 'efficiently, diligently, and loyally.'

He said he was unaware of any character assassination she was supposed to be doing, which, if it was occurring, should have been brought to the President's (i.e. his) notice immediately. Even though he was a good friend of Mrs Goodall's he would still have sharply divided friendship from business.

Now came a crunch. Gyles said it was actually he who suggested hiring a telephonist, even the particular woman. She has apparently worked for the Association before, was a good worker, and was unemployed. So the President did know of it how come Exec didn't? The arrangement was firm for the first term only. Gyles finished by saying that although we live in a capitalist system, we need not adopt its worst aspects. He disagreed with the motion at the time, still did, but would stand responsible with the Exec.

After that, Mike Curtis, Treasurer, said that Gyles had not said that he had given Mrs Goodall permission to hire the telephonist because Mike had specifically asked him. (How can we expect office staff to be open and honest with Exec when Exec members are not honest with each other?). Mike said that the office manager always discussed hiring staff with the Treasurer. In this case she didn't, and when Mike disagreed she told the new telephonist, 'Don't worry about Mike, he's just under Steve's influence.

After Mike finished, questions came from the floor. The few that were asked only resulted in parts of various speeches being repeated.

Students Want Blood

No-one appeared to want to know much more until it was revealed that there was a file about containing all the gory details of the situation. Many people wanted to have it read out, while others thought that we were not re-trying Mrs Goodall, we were trying the Exec, not because they dismissed her, but because of the way they did it. Finally the meeting voted 78-75 against reading the file.

A certain Mr Mallard tried to alter the motion of no confidence to one of no confidence in the members who voted for Mrs Goodall's dismissal, but the amendment was lost.

Lithgow's Moderation Prevails

About this time, a great constitutional wrangle arose. Untangling it all, this is what finally happened:

The motion of no confidence was put and, after a division, lost. Robert Lithgow had urged us to vote against it, so he could propose another motion which said:
a)the Exec be strongly censured.
b)a full report on the situation be accepted by SRC before the position of office secretary is downgraded.
c)a 3-person committee be formed to draw up a bill of rights for Association employees.

This was voted on, and passed 104-1 2.

So now it's over. Our principles and ideals are back on their feet again, even if their legs are shaky, and we can get back to the business of the year with everyone relatively happy.

Photo of students with their hands up