Lack of quorums hinders govt work

Posted on Jun 05 2012

Gov. Benigno R. Fitial’s lack of appointees to certain boards and commissions or his nominees’ failure to immediately submit required document such as financial statement and drug test results have been hampering certain government duties and functions for months and years, including those of the Civil Service Commission, the Board of Professional Licensing, and the NMI Retirement Fund.

A review of at least 16 CNMI government boards and commissions shows that only 71 or 64 percent of 111 board members and commissioners required by law are filled. Each of the reviewed boards is required by law to have anywhere between five and nine members, mostly by governor’s appointment and Senate confirmation.

Currently, the membership is between one and seven for each board or commission.

Press secretary Angel Demapan said the governor “is currently discussing vacant slots with individuals who have the potential to serve on such boards and commissions.”

For instance, the Healthcare Professions Licensing Board is required by law to have five members but currently has only one.

Its rules indicate that a quorum is a majority of members present, so the board has been functioning with only one member. But this is still subject to legal review.

The 111 board members and commissioners include the eight board members of the Commonwealth Utilities Corp. Fitial abolished this board some six years ago through an executive order and has not reinstated it since then. He placed CUC under his control again in May 2012.

The NMI Retirement Fund, according to officials yesterday, lacks quorum because it only has two members when the law requires seven.

Fitial submitted two re-appointments to the Senate, which has yet to confirm them until the Fund filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April. The federal court dismissed the bankruptcy filing last week.

Sen. Frank Cruz (R-Tinian), chairman of the Senate Committee on Executive Appointments and Government Investigations, said yesterday that the EAGI panel has not received the required documents such as statement of financial interest, drug test receipt/drug test results and police clearance from the two re-appointees: Bernadita Palacios and Marian Tudela.

“We cannot schedule public hearings on their nominations without those documents. We cannot complete our investigations without those. It’s the nominees’ responsibility to comply with the requirements,” Cruz told Saipan Tribune.

The Fitial administration plans to place the Fund under a state of emergency, and that includes removing the board of trustees. Cruz said such a plan to remove the board may be one of the reasons why compliance with requirements has taken longer than expected.

Demapan said the administration “conducts follow up efforts with the nominees requesting that their requirements get submitted.”

“Once it is submitted, the Office of the Governor transmits it to the Legislature. Remember that the administration cannot dictate the turn-around time for documents such as financial statements and drug test results. These results come from off-island,” the press secretary said.

[B]No quorum[/B]

Some 30 personnel cases related to terminations, suspensions, and reprimands have yet to be decided on because the last time the Civil Service Commission had at least five members to make decisions was in 2008, the commission’s acting director Andrew Orsini said yesterday.

Orsini said the Constitution requires seven members and at least five members deciding as one on personnel cases. Currently, the commission has only four members, chaired by Felix Fitial.

“This is a different commission. The Constitution requires that for every decision, it needs at least five members to make the same decision—whether it be in favor or not. Having four members, they can meet, but they cannot make decisions,” Orsini said.

Orsini, who has been with the commission for over 15 years, said there have been instances when commissioners opted to decline appointments or re-appointments because of liability issues.

“For example, I think the current indemnification protection is only about $200,000. What if they’re sued in their capacity for $1 million? Who’s going to pay for the rest if the court rules in favor of the complainant?” he said.

Despite its lack of quorum, Orsini said CSC usually provides informal status conferences to see whether they can mediate between two entities. If the mediation does not work, they advise the parties whether they want to wait until the commission gets a quorum or if they want to go to court instead.

“I’d say there are about 30 cases waiting for a board decision including termination, suspension, and reprimand. In a nutshell, a lack of quorum deprives employees due process; they should be given a chance to be heard on actions against them and rectify those actions if necessary. I believe the court would just like these matters to be settled at the commission level rather than in court,” he added.

Demapan said the Civil Service Commission did have a quorum until the expiration of one member’s term in January 2012. He confirmed the difficulty of appointing people to serve on boards, especially on the Civil Service Commission.

“Several nominees selected by the governor have declined for reasons such as health or other personal matters. In addition, there are criteria that govern the selection of nominees. For example, a nominee for CSC cannot be an active government employee,” Demapan said.

The Board of Professional Licensing has only one member, Greg Castro, representing Tinian. The law requires this board to have five members, and at least three to have a quorum.

“This board hasn’t had a quorum since at least December 2011,” executive director Florence Sablan said.

Sablan said a lack of quorum means the board cannot renew applicants’ licenses for architects, engineers, land surveyors, and real estate appraisers, among other things.

Demapan said the governor’s nominations are pending at the Legislature but the Senate has yet to receive the required documents.

[B]MPLT board of trustees[/B]

The Marianas Public Land Trust board of trustees has three members right now, meeting the quorum requirement. The law requires five members. The board is currently headed by former speaker Pedro Deleon Guerrero.

Fitial’s nominee to the MPLT board, Francisco Q. Guerrero, has yet to be confirmed by the Senate.

Guerrero, a former CUC board chair, was arrested on Monday for alleged molestation of a minor.

Fitial “is expected to make a decision on this matter” as early as today, Demapan said, when asked whether the governor will withdraw Guerrero’s nomination.

The Senate EAGI Committee chairman said that as far as his panel is concerned, he would request the administration to withdraw Guerrero’s nomination at this time.

Senate President Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) separately said this is a matter that the Senate leadership and the EAGI panel have to discuss.

[B]Full boards[/B]

The Commonwealth Development Authority and Northern Marianas Housing Corp. each have full boards at seven members each, CDA and NMHC offices said yesterday.

The Commonwealth Healthcare Corp. board also has a full board of seven.

[B]Other boards[/B]

The Board of Parole is supposed to have seven members by law, but currently has five that meets the quorum, said parole officer Mel Sakisat. The Board of Parole’s current chair is R.B. Camacho.

The Marianas Visitors Authority is supposed to have nine board members. It currently has seven, more than meeting the quorum. The current chair is Marian Aldan-Pierce. Of the two vacancies, one awaits the governor’s appointment and one is to be elected by members.

The CNMI Scholarship Advisory Board is required to have nine members. It has six members right now led by chair Kodep Uludong Ogumoro.

The Commonwealth Ports Authority board is supposed to have seven members but only has six right now, more than meeting the quorum. It is chaired by Joe Lifoifoi.

The law provides for seven members of the Northern Marianas College’s Board of Regents. It currently has six members chaired by former judge Juan T. Lizama.

The Commonwealth Election Commission has six members right now. The law provides for nine. Its executive director, Robert Guerrero, said yesterday that one member’s term will expire in October. The midterm election is on Nov. 6.

The Public Utilities Commission just recently got three members, the quorum for a five-member PUC board.

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