Editor’s Note: The following is the text of the author’s statement on the floor at the House session on Thursday, about the CNMI Department of Public Safety.
Mr. Speaker and colleagues: As many of us saw from the Department of Public Safety’s budget hearing yesterday [Wednesday, July 15, 2020], the commissioner threw a bit of a tantrum when asked about nepotism in his department. He acted in a way that is unbecoming of his position and disrespectful not just to me but also to this body. [Committee] chairman [Ivan] Blanco, I’d like to thank you for interjecting to restore order and decorum in that hearing.
But to me and my colleagues, what is even more troubling than the commissioner’s belligerent conduct is that he also essentially acknowledged that he violated the civil service regulations and the rights of the police officers that he furloughed. He did not consult with legal counsel. He did not even bother to read the regulations.
Instead, Commissioner Guerrero unilaterally made the decision to furlough police officers based, in his words, on performance and loyalty. This is not in compliance with the civil service regulations, which are intended to ensure fairness and orderliness when reductions in force must be made for lack of funds, and to protect civil service employees and recognize seniority of service.
Performance and loyalty. What exactly did the commissioner mean by that? He couldn’t explain. And if we talk to the officers that he chose to furlough, I will bet you, with confidence, that many of them will be able to show exemplary records of public service. Some of them have been in the force for two decades, certainly longer than the commissioner’s sons and other relatives and loyalists who remain at DPS. Some of them are decorated military veterans who served our country honorably and deserve far better than the treatment they got.
And, by the way, he furloughed these police officers at a time when the department has continued to pay overtime, including overtime to the commissioner himself, who is not legally eligible in the first place. As if to justify his additional COVID-19 pay, he said moving boxes on a runway is not a regular part of his duties. He’s right: it’s not. Surely there were other COVID -19 assigned staff who could have done that job.
Further, when the commissioner claimed that the furloughed police officers were advised of their rights to appeal their furloughs, pursuant to the civil service regulations, that was a blatant misrepresentation of facts.
After the hearing, I received a copy of one of the furlough letters he sent out, and it actually advises the officers that they have NO OPTION to appeal, which is just plainly wrong, according to the civil service regulations. I hope they all appeal. Frankly, I hope they all sue. That would be within their rights.
These are abuses of power, colleagues, happening within DPS. The question is, what are we going to do about it? DPS has long been overdue for oversight. In yesterday’s budget hearing, we covered just a sampling of the many, many areas of concern and abuse.
I know that we are in the middle of the budget process. I know that there are legislative investigations already underway. My plate is full too. But I think more scrutiny on DPS is also necessary. Public safety is paramount, and the wellbeing of our community rests so much on the morale and wellbeing of our police officers, and the integrity and honor of their department and their leadership.
A final note, on the rights of civil service employees generally: what I wonder, colleagues, is how widespread the violations are in the administration’s implementation of this reduction-in-force? How many other employees across our government have been furloughed for “performance and loyalty”? Let’s call it what it is: for politics?
Senators raised some of these questions, about the furlough process, in one of their hearings last week, but it’s not clear to me that answers were actually delivered, or that problems were actually fixed. I think we need to probe more. And I respectfully request, Mr. Speaker, that we call in [the Office of Personnel Management] and the agency heads who have implemented furloughs, to meet with us and answer our questions.
Christina Sablan (Special to the Saipan Tribune)
Christina Sablan is a member of the House of Representatives in the CNMI Legislature.