Part 1: The ASBSU Review Board has ruled in favor of an ethics complaint filed against ASBSU President and AVPEA

This article was revised at 6:54 p.m. on March 29, 2024 to include new statements from Zane Rivers, which are vital for full context to the events described in the article. This article was updated at 1:06 p.m. on April 1, 2024 to retract two quotes from Joey Engstrom, as requested by Engstrom.

An ethics complaint was filed against ASBSU President Cheyon Sheen and Associate Vice President of Ethics Affairs (AVPEA) Nathan Hoang on Oct. 24, 2023. 

The complaint, filed by Senate Leader Ethan LaHaug, Associate Vice President of Financial Affairs (AVPFA) Joey Engstrom and Isaac Celedon — who later dropped his name from the complaint — alleged that Sheen and Hoang had committed an ethical and constitutional violation by not recognizing the Senate’s non-confirmation of Hoang as the AVPEA. 

The Review Board, the judicial branch of ASBSU, ruled on March 1 that Sheen and Hoang had failed to recognize the Senate’s confirmations. 

But the road to this decision has been a months-long process, full of infighting, off the record meetings and alleged further ethics violations from other members of ASBSU.

The complaint

The complaint was first filed against Sheen and Haong after the joint assembly meeting on Oct.12, 2023, where both the AVPEA and the Associate Vice President of Student Relations (AVPSR) were subject to confirmation.

The necessity of the confirmations was contested by Peña, Hoang and other members of ASBSU, due to ambiguity around the code changes made as a result of last year’s constitutional convention. A new constitution was passed, which now requires AVPEA and AVPSR to be confirmed by the Senate. Hoang and Peña were initially hired in their respective positions while operating under old code. 

Hoang spoke out against the idea of confirmations for these positions, according to the meeting minutes, and claimed that the “necessary authorities” had already approved their appointments under the old system. 

Despite this, confirmations were still held. Peña was confirmed as AVPSR, but Hoang was not confirmed by the Senate. According to Engstrom, Hoang should have no longer operated as the AVPEA after the senate did not confirm him. 

Mark Nelson, a COAS Senator, spoke on why the Senate did not confirm Hoang.

“He was pushing through to eliminate the power of the Senate. Like, I actually liked Nathan. But I certainly didn’t like his beliefs on like, if I voted the way Nathan wanted to vote on two of the code changes. I would have voted myself out of an office,” Nelson said. “So like, the way it was worded, and presented, there was no way that a sane person could vote for it.”

In the meeting minutes, members expressed concern over Hoang’s resistance to being confirmed. 

“His demeanor in the meeting we were just in — it concerns me that he’s against this confirmation, because his position is supposed to be elected. He has opposed confirmation every step of the way,” LaHaug said during the debate for Hoang’s confirmation.

After the confirmation, according to Engstrom, Hoang continued to operate as AVPEA and attended executive council meetings. After his non-confirmation, the responsibilities of the AVPEA should have fallen to Diego Tapia, the Associate Vice President of Inclusive Excellence (AVPIE). 

Engstrom stated the Senate felt their decision and authority was not being respected, and after speaking with other members of the Senate, Engstrom, Celedon and LaHaug filed a complaint against Sheen and Hoang for failing to recognize the Senate’s decision.

After filing the complaint, things began to escalate. 

Post complaint backlash

Initially, the complaint was only supposed to be between the parties involved. LaHaug, Celedon and Engstrom as the complaintaints, Sheen and Hoang as the respondents. However, once word got out, Engstrom said that Celedon received such harsh backlash over filing the complaint that he later dropped out.

Engstrom was with Celedon in class the day it happened, and said Celedon was visibly upset. Engstrom said Celedon removed his name from the complaint as a result of the backlash, and stepped down from his Assembly Leader position. Celedon did not respond to The Arbiter’s request for comment.  

For Engstrom, this was just the beginning. Engstrom received an email from Hoang that a complaint was being filed against him by Zane Rivers, the Chief of Staff at the time, for “codical violations”. The complaint alleged that Engstrom had made changes to a student’s request for funding on Sept. 21, 2023 in relation to the amount of money a student had petitioned the funding board for, and that this was a code violation.

The minutes also confirm the change in the request, raising the amount being granted by $29. 

Engstrom said the change was made because they believed the student had made an error requesting funds, so initially requested a lower sum than what they required. According to Engstrom, they were waiting on new code that would allow students to change their requested amount of funding during the meeting to be passed, so the board agreed to allow the change in the meeting. The new code passed the following week.

While Engstrom acknowledged it was a violation of the code the Funding Board was currently operating under, during the meeting, Hoang motioned to make the change and the board passed the request with an added amount with five approvals and one member abstaining. The complaint against Engstrom was not filed until over a month later, Oct. 29, 2023, after he decided to move forward with his own complaint. 

Rivers said that the complaint “raised questions of legitimacy” about both the AVPEA and the Academic Senate, as the members of the Academic Senate were not elected. 

“And I decided on the on October 29, that if we were going to cross every T and dot every I, then I was aware of misconduct, which had happened in funding board, and therefore I should file an ethics complaint that led into the most, the worst and most emotionally charged, executive meeting we’ve ever had,” Rivers said. 

Rivers then decided to reach out to Engstrom to discuss the complaints. 

“After that meeting, I was just like, what are we doing? We’re supposed to be a team,” Rivers said. “And so I contacted Joey about finding a way to not pursue these cloak and dagger measures against each other.”

On Oct. 30, 2023,  Engstrom received a message from Rivers, asking to meet to discuss the complaint to “work out a win-win solution”. Engstroms stated it was a closed door meeting with no one else in the room, where Rivers ensured he was not recording. 

Rivers stated that he had not ensured that Engstrom was not recording but that he made a joke referencing a previous incident where a meeting was “secretly recorded” by some members without the knowledge or consent of all the attendees, and did not do this to ensure Engstrom was not recording.

“I deny these allegations,” Rivers wrote in an email to The Arbiter. 

Engstrom claims that during the meeting Rivers proposed an arrangement where if Engstrong continued with the complaint he would remove his Student Funding Board (SFB) officers. 

According to Engstrom, Rivers had a chart with Review Board members and how he believed they would vote. Engstrom claimed Rivers had “a plan” for members who may vote in Engstrom’s favor, including having “assembly members are ready to file a complaint” if Harris did not recuse himself. This would create a “deadlock” where Engstrom claims Rivers stated Hoang would then vote on the complaint. 

“He stated that if Max Harris and Abby vote in my favor, or you stated that Max Harris and Abby will vote in my favor in the complaint. However, the former Chief Review Board Officer Peter and the former Review Board Member Dominic Sparling, and former Review Board Member Gabe Rodriguez would likely vote in his favor,” Engstrom said. “However, if Gabe voted in my favor, he has a plan for that too. He then stated that if Max Harris were to vote in my favor, it would be a conflict of interest and assembly members are ready to file a complaint against Max. If he doesn’t recuse himself. Therefore, it would be [a] deadlock and a tie and then Nathan would be the one to vote on the complaint.”

Engstrom claims that this would prevent funds being granted, which Rivers acknowledged in the Executive cabinet meeting minutes from Oct. 30, 2023. 

The minutes state that Rivers said, “I believe it is irresponsible to allow any of the members identified in the most recent ethics complaint to continue to serve on the SFB while they are under investigation for code violations and consequently can and should be removed by the president for that cause…I am aware that this will cause an immediate and indefinite halt to the ability of BSU students to get funding, for which AVPFA Engstrom and the SFB officers under investigation should and will be held accountable.”

“He even recognized himself that by removing all funding board officers from their positions, theoretically firing them, he knows that it would be like that no students would get funding so in reality he was holding my funding board hostage,” Engstrom said.

Engstrom claimed it was an attempt to “quash an ethics complaint” and was 

“unethical”.

Rivers claimed he did not stand to gain anything by filing the complaint, and that characterizing his complaint against Engstrom as retaliatory was a mischaracterization. 

“[I] have nothing to be gained. Yeah, I mean, one I couldn’t do it in the first place. But even if I wanted to, I received no monetary gain. I received no political gain…It was about trying to unify the team. And, and yeah, so to misconstrue that as if I was doing it for my own interests is false,” Rivers said. “The only action I ever took in any of this was filing an ethics complaint, which is completely within my rights as an ASBSU  member and just any student at Boise State.”

Engstrom announced he had rescinded his complaint at 4:49 pm that evening and informed Rivers that he cc’d him on the email rescinding his complaint. Rivers responded that Hoang would be sending out an email to Engstrom and the other SFB officers that he rescinded his complaint. Rivers informed Engstrom he rescinded his complaint against Engstrom and his funding board officers at 4:59 pm.

Engstrom claims as part of the stipulations given during the meeting, Rivers asked Engstrom to publicly  apologize to Sheen in front of Joint for filing the complaint. Engstrom also claimed that Rivers “suggested” assembly members would file complaints against Engstrom and Max Harris, a Review Board member, and that it would make Engstrom look bad at his other job at the Frank Church Institute. 

Engstrom said he felt “manipulated” and “intimidated”. He also accused Rivers of “holding the funding board  hostage”, in reference to funds being withheld.

“I have never threatened Mr. Engstrom, and I likewise feel manipulated by the situation,” Rivers wrote in an email to The Arbiter.

Rivers then stated he did not have the power to “hold the funding board hostage”.

“[I] think it’s important to state that I never had the power to remove funding board officers. And in the statement I gave on the record in that exact meeting, I cite the constitution that gives the President the ability to remove funding board officers,” Rivers said. “President Sheen, although I proposed it, never took any interest in actually doing it. And even if she had it would have likely gone to a vote, an executive of which I’m one of 10 so I never had the power that Mr. Engstrom alleges, to hold his funding board hostage simply wasn’t within the confines of my role.”

While Engstrom did rescind his name from the complaint, he changed the agreement with Rivers to apologize through an email to Sheen, Peña, Rivers and ASBSU email to apologize to executives instead of individual emails, as he did not feel “comfortable” apologizing in front of the joint.  

On Oct. 30 at 4:49 pm Engstrom emailed the executive council members, and the ASBSU email stating he had rescinded his complaint and apologized for his “past actions” and apologized to Peña specifically. 

Peña had earlier given an address to the assembly meeting on Oct. 26, 2023, where he indirectly addressed the complaint being brought forward. Peña said he had mediated discussions about the ethics complaint against Hoang and Sheen, and that after a week of “backchanneling and rumors” they “owed” the rest of ASBSU information on how Executive was dealing with the complaint. After announcing that they had not come to a solution, Peña clarified that his following testimony was not a reflection of anyone but himself. 

During the testimony, Peña stated that the complaint “represents an escalation beyond my capability to help fix”. 

“Even a cursory look at this complaint reveals significant flaws, and it is my belief that there have been procedural errors in how the complaint has been handled since its submission,” Peña said in his testimony. “I am disappointed by the unsupported claims, misrepresentation of evidence, and flat out lies that this complaint contains.”

Peña went on to acknowledge that he was not a complainant or respondent, and had “little to no authority” over the complaint. He also stated that he had “very little desire to be involved in this at all”, and stated that he was not there to discuss the complaint or whether or not Sheen and Hoang had violated the constitution.

“I want to speak out as much as I can as to the poor conduct and bad-faith decision making that has riddled and debilitated this institution. So that you as leaders have the information and context that you need to make decisions that are in the best interest of your constituents,”Peña said in his testimony.

Peña went to address what he believed was poor conduct from some members within ASBSU, though did not state their names explicitly.  

“This complaint is largely the tip of the iceberg for the kind of unsavory behavior that I’ve seen. The kind of espionage-style cloak and dagger activity that the three individuals making this complaint have partaken in is the type of stuff I’ve only seen before in movies and episodes of Frontline. The extent of this behavior is so dire in fact, that I can not share it in its entirety with you for concern of interfering with ongoing investigation,” Peña said in his testimony. “I am appalled by this behavior, enough so to stand up here before you all today and break from my comfort zone as a neutral party and mediator to speak out in defense of our students and our integrity.”

Peña described the infighting as “ridiculous” and as an “abhorrent waste of our time and of student fee money”. He listed multiple issues students may be facing, such as a lack of resources to remain enrolled and attend class, sexual assault or mental health crises. 

“This week I was informed that the Mental Health Committee has been unable to organize serious efforts to combat mental illness on campus this semester because they have been caught up in the semantic messes these individuals have created,” Peña said in his testimony. “I have been unable to sleep the past few nights and have been suffering from anxiety attacks due to this latest issue. Once again, these individuals have directly impacted and impeded my work as AVPSR.”

Peña went on to state that Celedon had missed the majority of the previous Executive Council meeting and did not contribute to discussions around resolving the complaint. Peña also claimed that the reason the minutes from that meeting had not been released were due to someone altering them without authorization and having to “prioritize” the ethics complaint. 

Engstrom said he had made changes to the minutes, but claimed he only corrected the attendance and date. Engstrom said that “there is no code that says Executive members cannot fix the minutes”, but did state the Chief of Staff is the official keeper of the records.

“Senators and Assembly members, you have been misled, manipulated, and lied to. I have as well,” Peña said during his testimony. “I call upon you all as students and as civil servants to take immediate action to remove these individuals from their positions within ASBSU for the good of ourselves, our students and our community.”

Engstrom said that addressing the Assembly was a violation of code, citing code Legislative Code IV.D.2C . 

“I do feel bad that he has these anxiety attacks, but I’m sorry, the complaint that you were never involved in making yourself [involved] in [a] highly contested issue and then saying that I never wanted to be involved in it when you are directly getting yourself involved in it,” Engstrom said. “I mean, the Review Board also I just want to state that the Review Board is their own separate branch for a reason. The distinctions of the judiciary are to ensure that it does not hold any executive or legislative functions and we can remain fully operational without gridlock. That is the specific intended use of the Review Board. And in fact, last year, they heard over eight complaints. We haven’t even heard one this whole academic year. And quite frankly, it’s not even a complaint. It’s a constitutional question. Nobody is seeking punishment.”

Engstrom also stated that under Judicial Code VI.A.1, it is any member’s right to submit a complaint, and that no student funds were used to address the complaint.

Peña confirmed in an interview with The Arbiter that the address was partially about the complaint, but stated that it was not a violation of code. 

“I helped write the code with … And so like, I’m familiar with that code, the majority of people in ASBSU are not. I think the vast majority of people in ASBSU have opened the Constitution webpage and haven’t even begun to open code pages right. So, that creates an interesting dynamic when people start quoting code in meetings, like Executive cannot give an opinion. Okay, that’s not in code,” Peña said. “What is in code, is that first off, Executive Cabinet members may only speak during Joint Legislative meetings if they are invited … Well, we stretch our code and we stretch our rules all the time I count about, I’d say on average two or three violations per meeting, because nobody’s read it right.”

Legislative Code IV.D.2C reads “All Executive Cabinet members must remain neutral and may not speak for more than three (3) minutes at a time during discussion. An exception is made for the Associate Vice President of Ethics Affairs only when presenting Code Changes and Code Regulations. In that case, they have the same rights as a Member.”

During the meeting where Peña presented, Tapia attempted to stop Peña from speaking on the matter, but other members allowed the presentation on poor conduct to proceed. 

Tapia then remarked, “Do whatever you want and face the consequences. If you want to burn it down then burn it down.”

Engstrom sent Tapia an email stating he would like to sign back on the complaint on Jan. 26, 2024. 

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