Burton Survives as Council Rejects Recall
Removal effort fails to muster required two thirds
The Undergraduate Council rejected two articles of impeachment and voted not to remove Vice President John A. Burton '01 from office last night.
Though the vote fell far short of the two-thirds required to remove Burton from office, a slim majority--41 council members, with 38 opposing--supported the second article of impeachment. The article claimed that Burton infringed upon the rights of a student group by taking campaign materials from the Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Transgender and Supporters' Alliance (BGLTSA) without the group's permission.
The council also voted 47 to 33 against the first article of impeachment, which alleged that Burton had lied to the Election Commission about whether other campaigns had access to the buttons.
Council President Fentrice D. Driskell '01 said she was relieved by the council's decision. But she said the vote was a mixed victory, as more than half the council believed Burton had ethical violations serious enough to warrant removal from office.
"It makes you wonder what's next for us," Driskell said. "At times it's not going to be easy, but we can't afford to stop."
Burton declined to comment during the meeting and could not be reached for comment afterward.
The meeting, which filled Sever 113, drew about 30 Burton supporters who wore yellow ribbons reminiscent of the yellow bandanas and armbands worn during Driskell and Burton's campaign. As council members voted on the articles of impeachment, several supporters held up signs saying "Support the people's choice," and "Down with Buttongate."
The debate began with an opening statement by Frank X. Leonard '01, who argued that Burton misrepresented the BGLTSA buttons as a freely available resource, and that other candidates could not have used the buttons.
Burton's defenders, however, said Burton believed the buttons were a freely available resource at the time he took them.
Ultimately, the council was not convinced that Burton had misrepresented his actions to the election commission.
"From the evidence, I didn't think he lied," said Saadi Soudavar '99-'00. "I thought the point was well made about how the council [shouldn't] supercede the Election Commission."
None of the three Election Commission members present at the meeting said they believed Burton had lied to the commission.
Driskell and Erica A. Farmer '01, who was one of the two students who officially spoke in Burton's defense, said they believed testimony by Michael A. Hill '01 secured their victory on the first article of impeachment.
When Frank X. Leonard '01, prosecuting the case against Burton, asked Hill if another candidate could have taken buttons from the BGLTSA's resource center, Hill said "Just come in and take one. Anyone can do so."
Leonard, visibly frustrated, asked the question several more times, but Hill said nothing to suggest that the BGLTSA would not have given buttons to other candidates.
In an interview following his testimony, Hill clarified his statement, and said it would be okay for a candidate to take a single button, but not the large quantities that Burton did. He also said the BGLTSA has since implemented a rule barring anyone from taking any more than three buttons.
Several of Burton's opponents said they felt Hill's statements were misleading. Farmer, one of Burton's two managers, also said she thought Hill had said any candidate could take any number of buttons.
Hill granted that his responses may have been unintentionally misleading.
"I was vague, but that is because I can't speak hypothetically about how the entire [BGLTSA] board can view the situation," he said.
After the first article of impeachment failed by a vote of 33 to 47, the council turned to debate on the second article of impeachment. Sterling P.A. Darling '01 attempted to appeal to broader notions of fairness, arguing that Burton had behaved improperly in taking the buttons without permission.
"Ask yourself, how would you feel as another candidate?" Darling repeatedly asked the council, arguing that Burton had not played by the rules by which other campaigns had abided. "Do you think this was a fair election?"
Darling drew snickers from the crowd when he asserted that Driskell and Burton's buttons could have made the difference in their sweeping victory.
Burton's supporters pointed to the fact that the BGLTSA executive board does not feel wronged as evidence that the second article was misguided at best. Hill said he had repeatedly asked the impeachment petition's sponsors to withdraw the second article.
When impeachment supporters tried to introduce comments Hill had made earlier in The Crimson as evidence that BGLTSA had been wronged, Burton supporters charged that Crimson coverage has presented a biased account.
The debate over Burton's removal was initially slated to include five minutes for each side to present its case and 10 minutes for the council to ask questions of the case managers.
But the council voted repeatedly to suspend its own bylaws and extend debate, eventually spending around 2 1/2 hours on the two articles.