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SA spent $500 on Uber rides during New Orleans conference

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Documents show Student Association leadership spent $500 on Uber rides while attending a weekend conference in New Orleans during Mardi Gras.

The documents show a total of 12 Uber receipts submitted to SA’s comptroller seeking reimbursement for expenses paid ranging from $11 to $97.

It is not known who on the trip submitted the documents.

The Uber rides took place between Feb. 8 and 10, the same weekend as SA leadership attended the National Student Leadership Diversity Convention in New Orleans.

Executive branch members Jerlisa Fontaine, SA president; Madeeha Khan, vice president; Langie Cadesca, chief of staff; Nicholas Hackshaw, SA comptroller; and Ryan Maestre, director of public relations all attended the conference. Also in attendance was Vice Chair, Subha Tasnim.

Four of the receipts show riders moving between the Doubletree by Hilton, where those attending the trip stayed, to the Hilton New Orleans Airport where the conference was held. Both hotels are located in Kenner, LA.

The remainder of the receipts show rides from the group’s hotel into the New Orleans French Quarter or vice-versa.

These expenses were at the center of a debate when SA’s senate passed a bill that would put a check on conference line spending.

“Five-hundred dollars was spent on Ubers to go from bar-to-bar-to-bar in the middle of the night,” said Senate Chair Jarrett Altilio who called the bill a “direct response” to an ongoing issue involving SA’s conference line spending.

Langie Cadesca, chief of staff, explained that SA only used Ubers to dine out, not drink. Meal expenses were made out-of-pocket.

“Whenever we utilized Uber it was either to go have lunch or dinner,” said Cadesca who noted the there were no restaurant locations within proximity to the group’s hotel.

Several senators echoed Altilio’s response including Government Operations chair Anna Agnes, who sponsored the bill.

“It doesn’t look too great on social media if we’re posting pictures at Mardi Gras and we’re supposed to be at a conference,” she said, noting several of the images circulating showed attendees holding alcoholic beverages.

In a subsequent interview following the debate, Cadesca did admit such images were circulating on social media but noted no SA funds were used to purchase the beverages.

“Granted we were in New Orleans,” said Cadesca. “Obviously if you check social media, people had fish bowls or whatever the case may be.”

“Obviously people were concerned that it was a coincidence, in quotes, that Mardi Gras was happening,” said Rules Committee chair Brandon Holdridge, of the debate. “It was just ridiculous, you can connect the dots yourself.”

Fountaine defended the conference, saying the annual festivities had nothing to do with attending. She said that the discussion with the senate became too personal at times, but didn’t specify who or whom she alleged made personal attacks.

SA’s current budget — which is made up of student activity fee money — allocates $12,000 for executive conferences and $4,000 for legislative conference spending.

According to Hackshaw, the New Orleans trip did not exceed budget.

When pressed if students should have to pay for the Uber rides, Altilio responded, “No, simply, no.”

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Chad Arnold is a reporter for the Albany Student Press covering Student Association affairs. He is also an die-hard heavy metal fan.

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