ASG board members divided

Chairman responds to accusations of his leadership and effectiveness

Xitlaly Martinez (left) and Denim Sperisen (right), the vice president of finance and the director of student engagement, listens to the meeting as the student body moves down the approved agenda on Saturday, March 22 in the room where most ASG meeting are held.

The Associated Student Government at San Jose City College is still battling heightened internal tensions as more interpersonal conflict comes to light.

Documents provided to the City College Times by current Board members highlight allegations of ineffective leadership, disorganized decision-making and an overall failure to lead the student body in the eyes of the Board.

In response to the personal attacks, ASG President Leif Benson claims the Board is not fulfilling their duties, causing him to struggle to lead successfully. The Board, in turn, claims Benson is overextending in his position as President of ASG.

“As a leader, I was surprised how often I had to follow up with many Student Government members, especially because we are paid so generously compared to other local community colleges,” Benson said in his response.

Screenshots of emails and texts between the Board and Benson have been reviewed by The Times, alongside a one-page statement by Benson that was sent in response to earlier demands for resignation by the Board.

In his reply, Benson alluded to messages he has saved which he claims reflect the times he has encouraged different ASG members to perform the required tasks they were elected to fulfill. Benson said he has even resorted to use of the ASG Disciplinary Policy to try to hold members accountable.

In his statement to The Times refuting allegations of incompetence, Benson said he balances his disciplined approach to accountability by “listening, supporting, and accommodating the needs of ASG members to carry out their responsibilities.”

Denim Sperisen, director of student engagement, said that he and the other Board members “feel like we’ve been abused” by Benson, and that the work environment has turned toxic.

“He kind of split us apart, the whole board,” said Sperisen, who also provided The Times screenshots of messages between Benson and the board.

Sperisen went on to express concerns that the bylaws favor the President of ASG and he believes that every board member should hold equal amounts of power. In response, he was able to successfully change the bylaws with a near unanimous vote during a meeting last month so that ASG members now have the power to create committees and appoint students to them.

Valeria Graciela Herrera Vasquez, the director of student resources, also spoke about personal struggles she has had with Benson.

Herrera Vasquez claimed that she has always worked to fulfill her duties and that the only time she has not completed a task was when Benson told her to schedule an interview with all of the deans.

“I said ‘no’ and he took it the wrong way, since I’m the director for student resources and I didn’t want to do this meeting,” Herrera Vasquez said. “If I couldn’t do it, or if I didn’t want to do it because I disagreed with it, why couldn’t he just do it himself? Because at the end of the day, he is the President of the ASG.”

Herrera Vasquez argued that pursuing the meeting would be fruitless, since she said ASG had no definitive goals at the time Benson made the request.

Herrera Vasquez said she believes that her refusal was well within her decision-making rights, expressing that while the bylaws do specify that she must speak with the deans, it leaves unclear the manner in which she does so.

“He mentioned it in a very bossy way that I have to do it because I was the Director of Student Resources … from my perspective, having a meeting with all of them was not going to solve the issue that we had, that we didn’t have any goals as a team,” Herrera Vasquez said.

Benson was also criticized by board members for his tone and the way he would ask for tasks to be completed, more so than the actual task itself.

“I’ve always felt that whenever he was mentioning something in the group chat, it was always a condescending way, kind of like, ‘I want you guys to do this’, rather than ‘let’s all do this,” Herrera Vasquez said.

“I get that he is the president, but I also get that we are a team,” she elaborated.

This concern over Benson’s tone also came under fire during the closed session that ASG board members had, which legal experts say broke the Brown Act of 1953, a California law governing representative bodies.

The ASG team received a “Cure and Correct Letter” from a member of the community, which legally demands for the retraction of the illegal manner in how they asked for Benson to step down. In response, board members retracted the email and did not publicly ask for Benson to step down.

Despite mounting allegations of ongoing leadership failures, Benson pushed back in his statement, and said the issue of fellow members not executing their responsibilities is nothing new.

“I believe past and current administrations were not fulfilling their primary duties according to their roles,” Benson said.

Francis Seludo, a political science major and the former ASG President who was in power while Benson was a board member, responded to the attack, claiming that Benson is just trying to distract from the controversy.

“During my administration, and the previous administration I worked for, we did our duties that were set and made sure that we used it to benefit our students rather than for ourselves,” Seludo said.

Seludo went on to say he believed it was a shame that Benson was just trying to “stir the pot” rather than find a clear solution for himself and his fellow board members.

Despite the slew of personal attacks against one another, ASG continues to convene weekly on Wednesdays.

Editor’s correction note: the story has been updated to reflect that Sperisen was able to change the bylaws with a near unanimous vote so that ASG members now have the power to create committees and appoint students to them. The story originally misstated that the bylaws were changed so that not only the President has the power to add agenda items.