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DOJ says CUC could hire executive director that meets requirements

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The Commonwealth Utilities Corp. is capable of hiring an executive director that meets the minimum requirements. It did hire Alan Fletcher, who not only met the requirements but also ensured CUC’s compliance with stipulated orders.

This was the response of Bradley R. O’Brien, a senior attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice Environmental Enforcement Section, to CUC’s request to waive the requirements so it could hire Gary Camacho as its executive director.

O’Brien said that Fletcher was instrumental in furthering CUC’s partial compliance with stipulated orders—only that his contract was not extended by the CUC board of directors.

The U.S. government has asked the court to strike CUC’s motion for a waiver on the qualification requirements.

The position has been vacant since July 2015.

CUC legal counsel James Sirok said the U.S. government’s views are merely conclusory opinions of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency project coordinator John Tinger and are not supported by facts and circumstances related to CUC’s efforts to find Fletcher’s replacement.

Sirok noted that Fletcher was already on island and was working as CUC’s deputy executive director when he first filled the role as acting executive director in 2013 and was later appointed by the governor as executive director during the time when there was no CUC board. Sirok said the governor did not have to look off-island for a replacement.

O’Brien pointed out that in 2015 and 2016, EPA approved three executive director candidates and an additional potentially qualified fourth candidate. CUC did not hire these people; instead, it continued to operate under an acting executive director, O’Brien said

Contrary to CUC’s motion, O’Brien said, past hiring outreach shows that executive director applicants that meet the requirements are willing to become CUC’s executive director.

O’Brien said the executive director is literally and figuratively CUC’s leader and is CUC’s singularly most important position. For this reason, he said, the executive director must possess the educational background and professional experience and meet minimum requirements.

The qualifications include a master’s degree in management, engineering, finance, or public administration, or, in the alternative, a bachelor’s degree in engineering and registration as a professional engineer pursuant to the National Council of Engineering Examiners standards in either the civil, mechanical, or electrical branch.

In CUC’s objection to the U.S. government’s request, Sirok said after the CUC board was established in early 2014, it had an opportunity to observe Fletcher’s management skills and overall ability to manage CUC.

Sirok said Fletcher’s contract with CUC expired naturally in July 2015.

Sirok said what Tinger and the U.S. government have failed to articulate to the court is that the decline in the percentage of water availability to CUC’s customer base occurred during the tenure of Fletcher, and it increased during the tenure of Camacho as acting executive director.

Sirok said the reality of the situation is that, under Camacho’s management as acting executive director, matters related to SO1 deficiencies are being recognized and resolved with a higher priority and a higher rate of success than they were during Fletcher’s tenure.

Sirok said Fletcher was truly a water and wastewater expert with the educational degree required under SO1, yet he still failed to correct the issues over malfunctioning water meters.

Gov. Ralph DLG Torres and the CUC board of directors recently asked the federal court to allow Camacho to officially assume the role of executive director.

The court’s stipulated order 1 requires CUC to have an EPA approved plan and schedule to perform detection and repair of leaks in the drinking water distribution system, and to identify and eliminate subsurface connections to old drinking water lines or pipes that may negatively impact the quality of water in the distribution system.

Stipulated order 2 focuses on oil issues such as requiring CUC to repair and replace oil storage and operation structure, manage tank and pipeline facilities, and require spill and emergency response equipment and protocols. This order also applies to oil spills and the remediation of the contaminated power plants.

Ferdie De La Torre | Reporter
Ferdie Ponce de la Torre is a senior reporter of Saipan Tribune. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and has covered all news beats in the CNMI. He is a recipient of the CNMI Supreme Court Justice Award. Contact him at ferdie_delatorre@Saipantribune.com

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