Neighborhood Council Chairman Jim Joseph publicly sounded off on the stalled conversations between the city, students and residents regarding off-campus housing.
In his remarks, given at the end of the Neighborhood Council meeting Saturday, Joseph chided the Student Assembly, The Flat Hat and Matt Beato ’09 over issues ranging from the Rock the Vote bill to opinion pieces that have run in The Flat Hat.
“Votes will be used not as a civic duty but as a weapon to fight perceived injustice,” Joseph said in an interview Monday.
Joseph added that he viewed the opinion pieces of Flat Hat Senior Staff Writer Max Fisher, in which the voting and housing rights of College students are loosely compared to civil rights issues in the Sudan and Afghanistan, and the Rock the Vote effort, which pays students $10 for each fellow student they register, as associated.
Beato sponsored the SA bill that brought Rock the Vote to campus.
“[Joseph has] been telling us in meetings we need to have a united front,” David Husband ’09, chief of staff to SA President Zach Pilchen ’09, said. “This totally undermines efforts to change.”
Joseph had been working with SA leaders over the previous months on developing an alternative to the controversial three-person rule, which makes it illegal for more than three unrelated individuals to live in a house within the city.
The talks included three committees: one to develop a “good neighbor award” which would be granted to off-campus students who get along well with their community; another to develop a brochure for students living off-campus which would provide information on living in a house; and a third to deal with the legal ramifications of changing the three-person rule.
According to Joseph, only the “good neighbor” committee met.
It was agreed that representatives from the SA, the city and the Neighborhood Council would be on each of the committees.
According to Joseph, student leaders would be placed in charge of coordinating meetings.
However, the committees never came to full fruition and only two meetings took place. At one, the representative from the Neighborhood Council was unable to attend. The other was coordinated by the city.
“The groups were being dissolved because of inaction on the students’ part,” Joseph said. “That’s up to them if they want to reopen the committees again.”
“The groups have not been dissolved.” Husband said. “If we’re the only ones responsible for it, that’s not a negotiation.”
Husband, along with Pilchen, said they had not been contacted by Joseph in some time.
Joseph’s concerns with the Rock the Vote campaign extended to Beato. He expressed disapproval that the College was paying students to register other students to vote.
“Beato has a legitimate campaign,” Joseph said. “He does a good job except for sponsoring a $15,000 bill [funding Rock the Vote].”
Joseph said that the bill, combined with Flat Hat editorials he found disrespectful to the city and its residents, painted a bad picture of the student body.
Beato responded to Joseph’s statements by saying that he had not known he would be running at the time the legislation was brought before the SA.
“Frankly, I think an aggressive voter registration campaign was necessary to combat having a corrupt voter registrar for the past four years,” Beato said.
According to an estimate by Ryan Jackson ’09, SA secretary for Public Affairs, and David Witkowsky ’11, approximately 200 students have been registered under the Rock the Vote program.
The College partnered with Rock the Vote in November of last year as part of the voter registration drive spearheaded by the SA. In the past year, over 1000 students have registered to vote in Williamsburg.
Joseph also believes the recent voter registration drives are indirectly related to Flat Hat editorials and opinion pieces published during this school year. In the Sept. 25, 2007, issue of The Flat Hat, Fisher compared students’ problems over voting rights and housing to oppression in Sudan, Afghanistan, and Rwanda.
“Students are not registering because of the comparisons to Rwanda,” Pilchen said. “The three-person rule, that’s a problem.”