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YUSU Policy Coordinator to leave role at York Vision after controversy

Image: The Yorker
Image: The Yorker
Image: The Yorker

Josh Mackenzie, the Policy Coordinator of the University of York Students’ Union (YUSU), will resign from his role at York Vision at the newspaper’s Extraordinary General Meeting in October, it was announced this week.

The Yorker understands that Mackenzie struck a deal with the YUSU President, James Durcan, in a conversation over the telephone in late August.

Mackenzie will leave his role at York Vision at its EGM soon after the start of the 2018/2019 academic year. The Sabbatical Officers have “very much welcomed” Mackenzie’s decision.

Since taking office, Mackenzie has been under pressure to consider the potential conflict of interest to come from holding the roles of YUSU Policy Coordinator and Managing Director of a ratified student media society simultaneously. Before the end of the last academic term, a letter submitted to the then-YUSU President Alex Urquhart, written by his predecessor as Managing Director of York Vision, called for an investigation into grounds for a vote of no confidence against him.

The letter of complaint alleged that Mackenzie’s attendance of the YUSU Media Committee in a representative capacity for York Vision breached rules that forbids members of groups consulted during the YUSU policy process from also holding a position on the Policy Review Group.

Lucas North, the author of the letter, added that they believed

that it is inappropriate that a role so vital for fair and transparent union democracy is held by someone with a vested interest in the campus media […] I think it is a clear conflict of interest.

In a statement included in the second draft of an accountability report, released on the YUSU website this week, Mackenzie stated that his reason to originally run for the role of Managing Director “was to ensure that [York] Vision had the necessary support and signatories to continue as a media group in the aftermath of targeted resignations by the previous society leadership aimed at destroying the paper.”

Mackenzie added that he had

highlighted the numerous issues with the complaint itself and the way in which the initial investigation was handled, including manners relating to clear conflicts of interest by investigating parties and a lack of impartiality […] these are clear areas to be improved upon in any future investigations into alleged misconduct.

Addressing these concerns in an accompanying statement, the Sabbatical Officers said that they

recognise that over the course of the investigation, the Policy Coordinator has raised areas of disagreement in regards to the validity of the complaint brought against them under the Union’s accountability procedures. We are confident however that the outcome of the process is in the best interests of our student members and of all the involved parties.

Both Mackenzie and the Sabbatical Officers ended their statements on a positive note, saying that they looked forward to working on future policy matters and improving the policy system to make it more accessible to students.

Lucas North told The Yorker last month that their motivation behind calling for the vote of no confidence was a concern for proper procedure and fairness. However, in his statement, Mackenzie insisted that he maintained “the multiple comments I’ve made regarding the factual inaccuracy of the complaint lodged against me.”  He went on to describe North as “an individual with a personal grudge due to their involvement in the efforts to sabotage [York]Vision, and a history of spurious accusations and disreputable behaviour which has previously led to multiple investigations into their conduct.”

Mackenzie’s words echoed the University of York Conservative Association’s description of the letter as “a personally motivated and vexatious complaint against a YUSU officer…”.

After North’s letter was received on 13 June, then-YUSU President Alex Urquhart led an investigation into Mackenzie’s alleged conflict of interest. In an earlier draft of the accountability report, he stated that “the integrity of the process is […] compromised as long as [Mackenzie] retains both positions.”After suspending the term’s policy process, Urquhart himself suffered at least one motion of no confidence against him and condemnation from some student societies.

A second investigation into Urquhart’s alleged misconduct was not undertaken, as both members of the Policy Review Group and Urquhart would finish their roles at YUSU before a full investigation could be held.

In Urquhart’s view, the best course of action would be to persuade Mackenzie to resign from one or both roles. He said that holding a vote of no confidence at the start of the 2018/2019 academic year “will soil Freshers’ first impressions of YUSU” and would likely be unsuccessful due to a lack of student interest. “I believe we should continue to encourage [Mackenzie] to chose [sic] an option and publicly declare our lack of confidence in him as Chair [of the Policy Review Group], without triggering a referendum,” Urquhart concluded.

Since the end of the last academic year in late June, The Yorker has asked YUSU for information on the status of the vote of no confidence investigation, as well as whether such a vote would be held against Mackenzie in the 2018/2019 academic year.

The Yorker has contacted Lucas North for comment.

Note: the author of this report previously held the role of Policy Coordinator at YUSU.

This article was amended on 6 September to correct an inaccuracy. It was previously reported that Josh Mackenzie would resign at an Annual General Meeting, not an Extraordinary General Meeting.