A Rota senator is asking that public hearings be held on any law that seeks to amend the succession law in order to involve the people of the CNMI in the discussions.
Sen. Paul Manglona (Ind-Rota) made this statement after Saipan Tribune solicited comments on Sen. Francisco Borja’s (R-Tinian) Senate Bill 20-79, which seeks to authorize the governor to appoint a new mayor to any of the islands if the position is left vacant with more than half the term remaining.
Current law allows the candidate who received the second-highest votes during the previous election to be the mayor, if still willing.
“I immediately asked that the appropriate committee conduct a public hearing on all the municipalities before the Senate members act on the bill,” Manglona said. “It is my hope that that request will be honored. It is important that we hear from our people, especially since there are several already voicing their concerns.”
Tinian Mayor Joey Patrick San Nicolas has quashed rumors that he is stepping down. However, he said he supports “a move by the Legislature to amend the law regarding mayor vacancies.”
In a statement from the office of Borja, he clarified that the bill was drafted in order to address concerns of employees of the late Northern Islands mayor Jerome Aldan.
“Many of those employees had the expectation of being employed for four years and took out bank loans and entered into other financial commitments based on that expectation. Their abrupt termination and non-renewal of contracts had a very negative impact on their lives and their families,” said Borja. “We couldn’t help them then, but we can now ensure that the unexpected death of an elected mayor, especially in situations where more than half of the term has passed, doesn’t translate into hardship for those who voted to elect that mayor to begin with.”
Borja added that halfway through the term of a mayor, policy initiatives and projects are already “well on the way” and that it would be “highly disruptive, costly, and detrimental if those who are tasked with their completion are uprooted and replaced with those who now have to play catch up, or worse, decide halfway through a project that it is not a priority of the new administration.”
“If you look at approaches to mayoral succession taken by major U.S. cities, you will not find a situation where you have a losing candidate assume the position when the mayor steps down,” said Borja, adding that he had first-hand experience and knowledge of the “difficulties and challenges” that come with the “starting or transitioning to a new administration.”
Recognizing language issues of the bill, Borja said those would be addressed as the Legislature entertains the bill, however he specified “maintaining status quo, however, is not an option.”
“I don’t think there can be anything more unrepresentative of the people than a law providing for someone to assume a position whom the people have already decided [that] they don’t want as their mayor,” he said.