Two SGA senators admit leaking a controversial four-page impeachment complaint secretly given to The Oracle last month.
Senators Aaron Sams and Michael Stooksbury initially refused to answer any questions about the document, but later confessed to leaking the document in a one-sentence typed statement after The Oracle adviser met with Marc Burnett, vice president of student affairs.
The two senators slipped the document underneath the door of The Oracle office around 6 p.m. on Feb. 13. Senator Preston George filed the complaint against fellow senator Alijah Lott based on Lott’s arrest record. Lott resigned before the impeachment process was completed.
Representatives from The Oracle met with SGA representatives on March 1, including senators George, Stooksbury, and Sams, to discuss the original story published in The Oracle on Feb. 20. The published story, which had been edited, raised concerns that the story was misleading and unfair. Representatives also discussed trust issues between The Oracle and SGA.
During the meeting, a reporter specifically asked each of the senators if they, or anyone they knew, leaked the document. George suggested The Oracle view security camera footage to determine the culprits. Sams said “somehow” The Oracle received the papers, but he didn’t believe it was necessary to answer questions. Stooksbury agreed with his fellow senators.
The Oracle also wanted to know the reasons behind the complaint, but the senators declined to comment. They referred all questions to SGA spokesperson Baylie Bodiford and president Rachel Martin. Neither Martin nor Bodiford attended the meeting.
When the first story was written, Martin could not be reached for comment. However, she met with a reporter on Friday.
Martin said when she learned about the complaint, she met with Lott and advised him to resign.
“Even though it’s kind of against what we [SGA] say in our constitution, it’s still his personal life there’s no point in it being everyone’s business,” she said.
She explained George filed the impeachment complaint because he believed Lott’s actions could affect the credibility and reputation of SGA. She said George gave the document to a more experienced senator for advice about whether George was following the proper procedure.
“He was very upset that The Oracle had gotten ahold of it because he never wanted Alijah’s business to be out there,” Martin said.
Martin said she did not believe a feud caused George to file the impeachment complaint.
“I know that he’s [the senator who turned in the papers] very vocal in the senate and Alijah was very vocal in the senate as well and I know that sometimes people will be on the same side sometimes and sometimes they’re gonna oppose each other, so maybe it was conflicting sides,” she said.
Martin said it is not policy for members of SGA not to answer questions from The Oracle, but members are often afraid to speak to The Oracle.
“I think you should talk to them, but if you feel uncomfortable, but if you feel like you don’t understand what’s going on, or if you want someone else to be with you, I said you can refer them to Baylie, or you can have Baylie be with you,” she said.
In the impeachment complaint, George claimed Lott violated the code of conduct clause of the SGA constitution, because of his two arrests on drug and alcohol-related charges.
Lott, who was appointed to the senate in the fall, resigned which voided any impeachment proceedings.
Any SGA member can be removed from office if they are found guilty of a crime or any crime that would reflect dishonor upon the SGA, according to Article X, Sec. 3 of the SGA Constitution.
Lott has not been convicted of any of the charges against him.
On Oct. 20 the Tennessee Highway Patrol arrested Lott for driving under the influence, underage possession of intoxicating beverage, driving on a suspended or revoked license, possession of an open container, possession of drug paraphernalia and failure to prove financial responsibility, Sgt. Gregory Tranel of the Tennessee Highway Patrol told The Oracle.
Before Lott enrolled at Tennessee Tech, he was charged for possession of drug paraphernalia and simple possession of marijuana on April 2, 2016, according to a police report from the Shelbyville Police Department
George initially refused to verify he had authored the impeachment complaint and referred further questions to Bodiford Bodiford refused to discuss the document, which contains the original signature “Preston George.”
She also refused to comment on Lott’s claims of bullying. “The person who turned in the paperwork has also remained anonymous.
Also Alijah Lott isn’t a senator, he resigned, so there is no impeachment and no “senator” Lott,” Bodiford said.
The Oracle arranged a personal interview with Lott on March 15, but Lott did not show at the agreed upon time and later gave The Oracle a prepared statement via a text message.
“In spite of discouragement and adversity, those who are the happiest have a way of seeing the light through difficult times,” Lott said. “I am stronger, wiser and living my best life as a result. All that is being done, is the attempt at destroying my character. Those who know me personally know I am above anything this article has to say.”
Editor's Apology – Marcelo Gonzales
This will be an explainer for what happened with the SGA story.
While helping with the story about Lott’s impeachment, I decided to try to reach out and get his side of the story. Upon meeting him for the interview (the first and only time I’d be meeting with him) I realized that in order to get the full story and the circumstances surrounding the impeachment and resignation of an SGA senator I had to make a promise.
This was the start of many things that would come after that, but first I want to apologize to Zach Fowler, the original author of the story. I should’ve never transformed the story in such a way without consulting him first and foremost, and to do so breaks the trust he put in me as the relationship between a reporter and their editor is supposed to be.
This was my mistake. I promised that I would not include the charges and I would rephrase “drug-related offenses” to “non-Tech related incidents.” This promise should not have been made. Let me repeat myself, I should’ve never promised that. Although I kept a promise to a source, I should’ve never made that promise in the first place.
I know many feel like this compromised my journalistic integrity, I will sustain that breaking the promise would’ve been more harmful than not. I will never contend that this promise was necessary, but keeping the promise was necessary.
Besides the promise, the biggest error I committed was not consulting this with my adviser. I did not uphold what was expected of me as the editor by not consulting with my adviser. This was an unprecedented event that should’ve been talked about with the faculty member overseeing this school newspaper. For this, I’m sorry. I know I make the decisions, but an uninformed and uneducated decision might as well be a flawed one.
Additionally, I failed to seek the support of my staff. Everyone I work with trusts me to make the right decision, and by not seeking their support or opinion on the matter I did not reciprocate with the same trust.
The phrasing of “non tech-related incidents” is incorrect, since he is a public figure and his actions directly affect how Tech’s students and their government are seen in and out of the campus sphere.
That said, I completely support the rewriting of the story. To maintain the “integrity of the story,” I will abstain from it. That way, it can be written in a completely objective way and finally free of the promise I made.
For the short time that I will remain the editor of The Oracle, I will try to improve and guide my fellow staff members in the areas I think the newspaper needs to improve. That was, is, and will always be my mission.
Thank you for reading The Oracle.