The Penny Drops

first_imgUnion Returning Officer resigns amid complaints of intimidation and “interrogation-style knifing sessions”Union Returning Officer Cameron Penny resigned on Wednesday amidst allegations that he intimidated candidates in today’s elections, a claim he denies. Four candidates from Christ Church have complained of feeling intimidated and excluded by his actions,  prompting ex-President James Wise to submit a letter of complaint to Standing Committee. In a statement of resignation to Union President Emily Partington, Penny said, “I stand by every action I have taken as the Returning Officer, and I regret nothing that I have said or done in discharging my obligations. “I thank you, and the rest of Standing Committee for the support you have given me at difficult times during the course of this term.”The third-year Oriel student also told Cherwell, “The letter and the events of the past week have had no bearing on my decision to resign.”The candidates, who say they are running to draw attention to what they describe as the exclusive and insular nature of Union politics, feel that they were the victims of hostile and arrogant behaviour on the part of Penny and his deputies during mandatory interviews about their manifestos.In his letter submitted to Standing committee on Monday, Wise claimed that the candidates were subjected to “interrogation-style knifing sessions,” and argued that such conduct on behalf of Union officials could alienate future candidates.The Christ Church students said that they felt the arrangement of the room where the interviews were held was “deliberately designed to intimidate.” They were permitted to have an impartial representative accompany them, and were required to sit fifteen feet away from the panel of electoral officials conducting the interviews. They were only allowed to stand up or sit down with Penny’s express permission. Rich Gowland, one of aggrieved candidates, said, “Cameron Penny set it up like an interrogation.”Chris Hughes, who has nominated for Secretary’s Committee, said “If I hadn’t had James [Wise] in there with me, I would have just walked away.” Hughes also said he thought that the interview was being recorded, despite the fact that he had not given his consent.Penny defended this, arguing that he was required to record conversations and that recordings were available on request.Mike Campbell, another candidate, said that he felt that he and the others were being singled out because of their overtly ‘anti-hack’ stance. All four said they felt that, for an outsider, the whole electoral process is “deliberately complex and scary”. It is the duty of the Returning Officer to amend manifestos so that they are both accurate and in accordance with Union rules. However, these candidates felt that Penny took this obligation to extremes, even asking Chris Hughes for substantive proof that he had served as one of Christ Church’s Entz Reps.  The candidates felt this question was “pedantic and facetious” as well as “snide and belittling.”Penny denied that any individual candidate or group of candidates was singled out, stating that “Every candidate is treated exactly the same and the Christ Church students’ “grilling”, as it were, was a lot less gruelling than many of the other candidates’ because they had less on their manifestos.”All four candidates, in compliance with the Union Standing Orders, were contacted by the Returning Officer and his deputy Alex Priest to inform them that their manifestos would shortly be displayed at the Union.  The candidates said that they were called repeatedly at 5.30am; Gowland stated he received ten missed calls in two minutes before picking up. Penny defended the timing of the calls on the basis that he had worked through the night to process the manifestos and that “every other candidate was called at the same time.” “The complaints that are being made are done so, in my view, with malicious intent,” Penny continued.Union President Emily Partington declined to comment. by Caroline Crampton and Oscar Cox Jensenlast_img read more