COLUMN: “Poolgate”: Tretter jumps headlong into hot waters
Anthony Tretter’s handling of his COVID-19 controversy is so bizarre, he is either living on a different plane of reality or trying to make fools out of us.
Oct. 05, 2020
Mavis Chan is a sophomore journalism and political science major at MU. She is an opinion columnist who writes about campus and current affairs for The Maneater.
It is a universal truth that politicians secretly crave a good scandal. Surprisingly, this holds true even for a student government official at a regional state university.
Almost everyone has seen the photo of Missouri Students Association President Anthony Tretter at the Brookside Midtown pool. In the photo, Tretter is seen in a public setting, without wearing a mask and refusing to social distance himself from others. It was posted on the unofficial parody Twitter account @UofMisery on Aug. 23.
Following the release of the photo, the MSA Senate proposed Resolution 60-02 during its first meeting of the year on Sept. 1. This bill mandated “the MSA executive branch to publicly address allegations regarding its adherence to the University of Missouri COVID-19 policy.”
Jools Pulcher, a first-term senator who made a speech in favor of the bill at the meeting, said Tretter repeatedly claimed that the original Twitter post was “an invasion of [his] privacy.” For this reason, Tretter refused to respond to the photo the entire month of August. Tretter also said his response would have only "fueled the fire."
However, according to Missouri state law, the offense of invasion of privacy only occurs when someone creates an image of a partially or fully nude person without consent. Full or partial nudity is defined in statute as the showing of genitals or private parts.
Clearly, the photo in question does not show Tretter in a state of “full or partial nudity” per the phrase’s legal definition. Legally, there was no invasion of privacy. Unless, in Tretter’s mind, “invasion of privacy” is whenever somebody exposes his wrongdoings to others.
Tretter also took issue with @UofMisery’s follow-up Twitter post on Aug 25, which mentioned his COVID-19 diagnosis. According to Pulcher, Tretter “disclosed [he] actually tested positive” during the meeting, when he was alleging the @UofMisery posts breached his privacy among other offenses.
Pulcher also mentioned that at one point in the proceeding, Tretter had tried to allege that the @UofMisery posts had violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. This federal law was enacted to protect personal medical information from being disclosed without the patient’s consent by entities such as healthcare providers.
Obviously, this accusation was completely ridiculous, since the posters’ identity was highly unlikely to be his doctor. This looks like another desperate attempt by Tretter to play innocent and divert the senators’ attention from his public embarrassment.
Next came the bombshell: After the Senate passed Resolution 60-02, Tretter vetoed the bill.
That's right. Senate Speaker Mackenzie Beaver received word that Tretter was going to veto the bill on Sep. 3. It must be noted that Tretter did not express any wish to veto the bill during the full senate meeting.
“[Tretter] didn’t actually say anything about vetoing the bill in that meeting,” said Pulcher.
His reason for vetoing the bill, according to a later statement released by Beaver, was that Tretter felt the “debate procedure was violated,” because his executive cabinet was “deliberately silenced.”
Beaver disagreed. According to the same statement, the only reason the Senate ended the debate early was because of the “8:00 PM time cut off for Leadership Auditorium,” where the meeting was held. In an interview with The Maneater, Pulcher mentioned they thought there were other senators in favor of the bill who did not get a chance to speak because of a time shortage.
However, they later clarified that they were “informed that there were no further speakers in affirmation on the bill, and due to the time restriction and the fact that one statement had been made in negation and one in affirmation, the bill continued on to voting.”
So far, Tretter has complained about “invasion of privacy” and “bias.” Surprisingly, he has not completed the trifecta of political blame-shifting by declaring the senate meeting was “a witch hunt,” but perhaps Tretter had not yet progressed to a national player’s level.
Nevertheless, let’s take a closer look at Tretter’s decision to veto the bill. First, he claimed his executive cabinet members were not allowed to speak. However, the Rules of Missouri Students Senate states that only senators can give speeches supporting or opposing any bill. Other MSA members like the executive cabinet can only speak when they are asked by the senators. Cabinet members cannot speak in full senate meetings unless spoken to.
Therefore, Tretter’s allegation of debate rules violation was meritless. The rules were not violated just because senators did not ask executive cabinet members to speak. His reasons for vetoing the bill look more and more like a pretext to dodge responsibility for his actions. Does Tretter even know the laws and rules of his own government?
In addition, chair of the MSA Operations Committee Landon Brickey, whose committee ensures all members of MSA are obeying its laws and rules, shined an even brighter light on the unusualness of this veto.
“There hasn’t been a veto in about seven to nine years,” Brickey said. “If the executive branch had a problem with procedure then that is typically a court issue.”
Beaver had a similar opinion.
“Procedural issues are supposed to go to the judicial branch of MSA and violations such as the one Tretter maintains occurred are their responsibility to oversee,” said Beaver in her statement.
There has been no news of Tretter making such a claim on the Student Courts as of now.
Brickey also revealed that Resolutions of Imperative Action, the type Resolution 60-02 belongs to, could not be vetoed by the president in the past. Brickey said MSA only changed this rule recently to “ensure balance of powers.”
How ironic. This new presidential power was intended to stop the senate from abusing its power, but Tretter was using it to exploit his own. Instead of balancing the scales of power, one plate is smashing the other to pieces.
This situation seriously calls Tretter’s integrity into question. Is he fit to lead MU’s entire student body, when he cares so little about laws and rules? When he has no qualms with arbitrarily exercising his official powers to cover up his personal misdeeds?
The story only gets more bizarre from here. Even though Tretter vetoed the resolution that mandated him to publicly address his pool controversy, he posted on Twitter a news release on Sept. 3, addressing the controversy and offering “a sincere apology to the student body of this University” to over 5000 followers.
This wasn't the public address the Senate resolution mandated him to make. He vetoed the resolution, remember? But a few days later, he publicly released a boilerplate mea culpa-slash-justification.
Tretter put on a facade of acquiescence and remorse in public, but in places where the public glare could not reach him, he went on blocking formal attempts at holding him accountable. Was he trying to trick reporters and the wider student body into thinking he had complied with the senate’s resolution, thus covering up the fact he had used his presidential power to shield himself from the senate majority’s scrutiny on his wrongdoings?
Maybe the explanation for all of his behaviors is much simpler: Tretter, like all politicians up and down the greasy pole, is a hypocrite. From Thomas Jefferson to Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton and countless others; politicians deceive the public for their own benefits all the time.
Tretter was featured in a promotional video urging MU students to follow MU’s Show Me Renewal plan and public health policies. This video was originally posted by @MizzouLife on Aug. 3 and Tretter retweeted it later on. Although most statements in the clip are very unspecific, the video emphatically states, “As we physically distance from one another this fall, Mizzou students will need new ways to socially connect.” Tretter’s involvement with this video is evidence that he did understand the importance of social distancing. He outwardly ignored this advice on Aug.15 at the Brookside Midtown swimming pool.
How are students expected to take university policies seriously, when the policies’ spokesman is seen disobeying them?
In his Sept. 3 news release, Tretter stated, “The photograph was taken on August 15 and was days prior to any guidelines regarding student conduct being released,” adding that his actions that day “did not violate any regulation in place at the time.”
However, if we look back on his Twitter feed, we can find that Tretter retweeted a tweet by Bill Stackman, vice chancellor for student affairs, that was posted on Aug. 6. Among other things, the tweet said, “Please note that masks are required on campus and in the city of Columbia.” Did Tretter not read the tweet before retweeting it? Besides, the City of Columbia had already passed a mask ordinance on July 6 requiring everyone 10 years old or older to wear a mask whenever they are around people who are not household members.
At this juncture, I think it is safe to conclude that on Aug.15, Tretter either actively shunned public health guidelines, or he was completely oblivious to regulations that he was supposed to have known by Aug. 6. He is either disingenuous and hypocritical, or clueless and incompetent. Which pair of qualities do you prefer in your student leader?
Anthony Tretter has a lot to answer for. As the president of the Missouri Students Association, as a popularly-elected representative of the student body, he has a responsibility to be transparent and accountable to his constituents, i.e. us.
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Edited by Sofi Zeman | email@example.com
Corrections: Sep. 25, 2020 An earlier version of this article said that Tretter accused the @UofMisery posts of violating the Hippocratic Oath. However, he had actually accused those posts of violating The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) at one point in the debate. Accordingly, relevant sections of the article have been amended to reflect this information.
Moreover, an earlier of this article also said Pulcher thought there were senators in favor of the bill that did not get the chance to speak because of a time shortage. However, Pulcher now maintains they were informed that no senators at the time requested to make speeches of affirmation. Accordingly, the latter statement is now included in the article to reflect the full context of that senate debate.