I will not comment on rumors but will address why I have introduced Senate Bill 20-79. First, this legislation was drafted for consideration shortly after the untimely passing of the Northern Islands mayor Jerome Aldan back in February when the succeeding mayor essentially replaced all the employees who were part of the Jerome Aldan administration.
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. This bill was drafted after those employees came to us asking for help. 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.
The other point of consideration is to ensure that there is continuity. As someone who has served as mayor, I have first-hand knowledge of the difficulties and challenges that comes with starting or transitioning to a new administration. Halfway through a mayoral term, policies, initiatives and projects are already well on the way and 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. In fact, in the city of Rochester, N.Y., the succeeding appointment must be from the same party, which speaks directly to the understanding that there is the expectation that there will be continuity in terms of policy.
Our review of other jurisdictions finds that succession rules can be broken down in three categories: they are either appointed by the City Council, the successor is the City Council president, or is an appointee of the mayor. And, depending on the amount of time left on the term, these appointments are either for the remainder of the term or until such time that a special election is held.
Our Constitution also provides for a succession rule for our Executive Branch. When a governor dies, he is succeeded by his lieutenant governor. The two top executive positions is assumed by someone who is already elected by the people. The reason for this is to provide continuity, at least for the expected four years of a gubernatorial or mayoral term.
I know that there is some concern with the current language in the bill in as far as the appointment process but those are issues that we can address as we entertain the bill. Maintaining status quo, however, is not option. A vacancy in the House or the Senate seat does not have the same impact as a vacancy in the mayoral seat for a municipality. 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.
Francisco M. Borja is a senator in the 29th CNMI Legislature.