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‘A pond infested with politicos fighting for every inch of real estate’

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To Rep. Leila Staffler, chairman, Committee on Education, House of Representatives: I feel obligated to share with you my personal views of the Attorney General’s contradicting opinions cited in OAG NMTI 2020-253 and OAG NMTI 2020-654. I do so as the effects have taken its toll on some very upstanding employees calling for my plea to various policymakers for swift action in this matter.

Two days ago, I called one of the Northern Marianas Trades Institute’s displaced staff to ask something unrelated to NMTI. I greeted him with: “How are you?” The individual responded, “I am so destitute, I don’t even have any more money to buy my food.” His statement was so severe it forced me to once again explore with you, as the House chairman on Education, how your committee could assist affected NMTI staff, instructors, and students as the situation has dragged on for far too long.

It is becoming rather apparent that there are opposing interpretations being made within the AG’s Office requiring the Legislature to seek the intervention of the Judiciary. In the story where Manibusan says the House tie-breaking rule “contravenes” the Constitution, you will notice that Manibusan exposes the office’s limited functions to resolve legal disputes, hinting toward resolving such disputes via the Judiciary. In the article, he said that due to the importance of resolving the issue, a certified question petition to the local Supreme Court “is recourse that may be explored.”

Wholeheartedly agreeing with AG Manibusan on such legally unresolved disputes of importance, it is the duty of the Legislature to use the same recourse in regards to NMTI’s employment situation. I suggest a certified question petition be made to the local Supreme Court as the multiple public hearings with the NMTI board of trustees have not advanced the process of reinstating NMTI’s deserving employees. The matter being contested is whether “trades” employees are considered assets and, if so, are they to be transferred in accordance with Public Law 20-92 as titled in Section 3 (e) Transfer of Property, Personnel and Funds to NMTI?

After extensive review of OAG NMTI 2020-253 and OAG NMTI 2020-654 in relation to what is being cited verbally by the NMTI board leadership is not within the margins of the AG opinions provided in my view. While trustee members continue to cite procedures from the Office of Personnel Management, there isn’t any specific instructions calling for it in the AG opinions. Citing paragraph 3 of OAG NMTI 2020-654, it says, “The NMTI board of trustees’ action and approval is required before they [trades personnel] become employees of NMTI.”

This passage you will note is consistent with Northern Marianas College v. Civil Service Commission, 2007 MP 8 and further upheld in the Supreme Court (CV-06-0021-GA): Appellee Jack Angello was a Northern Marianas College employee until NMC terminated his employment under the “without cause” provision of his employment contract. He appealed his termination to the NMC Employee Appeals Committee, which upheld NMC’s decision. The employee then appealed the ruling to the Civil Service Commission. NMC argued that the CSC lacked jurisdiction over NMC’s employment decisions. The CSC found that it had -59- jurisdiction over NMC’s employment decisions, basing its decision on the Article 20, Section 1 of the CNMI Constitution, which states that “the [CSC] shall be the sole authority authorized by law to exempt positions from civil service classifications.” After multiple hearings and procedural battles in the Superior Court, the Supreme Court ultimately held that NMC is a fully autonomous agency under the CNMI Constitution, and is thus exempted from the civil service system. The high court reasoned that the CNMI Constitution granted NMC the power to fully control the administration of its affairs, and that NMC was empowered to make its own employee termination decisions without the CSC’s review. Thus, the high court held that NMC’s decisions are not appealable to the CSC.

In my review of the case being presented, NMTI like NMC by means of P.L. 20-92 is a fully autonomous agency, and is thus exempted from the civil service system. Maintaining such assertions, I feel what is required by NMTI’s board of trustees is to officially approve the transfer of the affected employees by means of official board action via regular or special board meeting, so that we can immediately begin providing services to constituents to fully comply with P.L. 20-92, Art. IV, § 12144, Sec. 3 (e) (2).

My strong belief has always been that P.L. 20-92 never intended to create confusion and hardships with students, instructors, and staff of the Northern Marianas Trades Institute transitioning “from that of a private non-profit school to that of a public career and career technical training institution to better serve the Commonwealth…” (P.L. 20-92, Sec. 1.). On the contrary, it was supposed to be a very smooth transition. The intent of the Act is that NMTI shall prepare itself to “obtain national industry credentials and certifications for its career, technical and trades training curriculum and program by the end of the fifth year after its transition into a public NMTI,” through this chaos is now further away from such a realization as it has become a pond infested with politicos fighting for every inch of real estate. I hope one day we can look back at how history continues to show how greed and personal ambition has slowed progress and say, “We did everything we could to minimize the damage.”

Agnes M. McPhetres
via email

Agnes M. McPhetres
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