By Mohamed Omar
The official hired to facilitate this year’s Ryerson Students’ Union elections is a stranger to the union and the school, but her sister isn’t.
Shelby Kennedy, the Chief Returning Officer (CRO) selected to oversee the student union elections, is the sister of Kaley Kennedy, a student activist familiar to RSU executives and staff.
RSU president Rodney Diverlus said CRO selections have caused problems in the past. Now, a hiring committee consisting of two full-time staff members chooses the CRO.
Diverlus added that a relation between a CRO and a current executive with candidates would present a conflict. He wouldn’t say if any of the current vice-presidents were running in the upcoming election.
“If the executive knew the CRO, that would be a problem,” he said. “But we don’t know the CRO for that particular reason.”
“Way before I came, there were years of many controversies of the president sitting on the hiring committee… so the executives separate themselves from the process,” he said.
Diverlus said he knows “a Kaley Kennedy,” but added that he “doesn’t know” if she has any relation to the CRO.
Kennedy, a geography student at York University, did not comment on whether her sister influenced her decision to apply for the CRO job.
In an email, she said she “learned about the RSU after finding the posting for the CRO position online.” The job posting opened on Dec. 4 and closed on Dec. 10.
“I don’t do the hiring so I don’t know [the CRO],” Diverlus said. “I know her name is Shelby, I don’t even know her last name.”
Diverlus said the executive committee and himself only ratify the hiring committee’s decision and approve payroll -in this case $2,500 for the CRO and $1,000 for the Deputy Returning Officer (DRO).
DRO Linda Flores and Kennedy are acquainted. Both are listed on Facebook as having attended St. Basil the Great College, and photos of the two at social gatherings were found. The CRO hires the DRO.
“The process of hiring the CRO is also to make sure that the CRO isn’t tied to anybody here, and doesn’t know anybody,” Diverlus said.
“They can’t be a student [at Ryerson], they can’t be a staff [member], [and] they can’t be connected to Ryerson.” Gilary Massa, the RSU’s executive director of communications and outreach and one half of the hiring committee, said she wasn’t aware of the relationship between the two sisters when Kennedy was hired.
Massa said Kennedy did not include her relation to Kaley in her résumé or mention it in the interview.
When The Eyeopener sent an email to Kennedy, asking to confirm her relation to Kaley, at 11:45 p.m. on Monday, the student paper received an email from Massa at 12:13 p.m. on Tuesday stating “just say no.” Massa sent another email 11 minutes later. “I think I may have sent [The Eyeopener] another email accidently [sic] It wad [sic] meant for someone else,” the email read.
Casey Chu Cheong, the internal coordinator at the RSU and the second member of the hiring committee, directed any inquiries regarding Kennedy’s selection to Massa. Cheong’s email was listed in the job posting as the contact for the position.
In an email, Kennedy said her interest in “electoral processes and student engagement,” and the fact that she “was looking for a job,” led her to apply for the position. “I saw the posting on Charity Village and thought it would be a good experience,” she said.
According to the CRO job posting on non-profit job site Charity Village, successful candidates will possess “demonstrated experience in student run elections and campaigns” and an “understanding of the goals and values of the student movement in Canada.” Brandon Clim, a political science student at the University of Ottawa, runs studentunion.ca, a blog covering student politics across the country. Clim said that, in his experience, student unions could put in more effort when hiring a CRO.
“It has always been my opinion that student unions should spend a little bit more to hire professional election officials,” Clim said in an email to The Eyeopener. “When CROs are students, often they have little to no experience administering elections.”
Kennedy’s qualifications for the position, sent to The Eyeopener in an email, include having “practiced [her] right to vote since the age of 18” and “an interest in ensuring that students are given all the tools they need to make the choice to exercise their democratic right to run or vote in the election.”
Clim added that “the hiring of the CRO should at the very least go before the RSU board where a vote would take place to approve the hiring.” Diverlus said the president, executive committee, and the board should have no say in the hiring to ensure impartiality.
When nominations close on Friday, Kennedy will verify candidates and drill them on election guidelines.
She will chair a mandatory all-candidates meeting on Jan. 28.