It was a heated discussion at yesterday’s budget hearing, with Department of Public Safety Commissioner Robert Guerrero raising his voice multiple times toward Rep. Tina Sablan (D-Saipan), following the lawmaker’s back-to-back questions on nepotism, furloughs, and civil service rules.
House Ways & Means chair Rep. Ivan Blanco (R-Saipan) had to call for a short recess to cut the tension, with Guerrero walking out of the chamber, followed by the rest of his staff, leaving the legislators huddling in a private discussion immediately after.
Sablan raised concerns about nepotism in hiring that allegedly is happening at DPS, in particular, the hiring of the commissioner’s sons, brother, nieces, and nephews.
“Only one was transferred when I was on board and I did not take part in any of his transfer.”
When Sablan followed up with “Only one? Don’t you have two sons?” Guerrero said he has two sons, but reiterated that since he got on board, only one got transferred down and insisted that he did not hire his son.
“He was transferred from [Office of Planning and Management] from Commerce, No. 1. No. 2, I was not part of the process. I recused myself from it. As a matter of fact, specifically, I don’t allow any of my kids actually to come work for the department.”
“But don’t you have two sons that work for the department?” Sablan again asked, but was met with a loud “I did not hire the first one, I just told you. Which part don’t you understand?” from the commissioner, who then called to Blanco and said, “Mr. chairman, if this is gonna continue the way it is, we’re done.”
Sablan continued probing and asked if Guerrero has any other relatives since the academy has been instituted.
“Congresswoman, half of these people here are my relatives. What do you say to that?” Guerrero asked back.
No loyalty means furloughs?
Aside from nepotism, Sablan also questioned the commissioner on the selection process in terms of furloughing employees. DPS had 228 personnel—184 of whom are sworn officers and 40 civilians. Eleven got furloughed, leaving them with 217.
According to Guerrero, his decision was based on performance and loyalty, and that those who got furloughed had issues with performance and with their loyalty to the department.
The commissioner also said that he did not follow Civil Service Commission rules where an appointing authority has to exhaust all administrative alternatives to place an employee in another equivalent position before reduction-in-force procedures are instituted. However, he mentioned that he consulted with the Office of Planning and Management on the furloughs.
Under CSC rules, furloughs of more than 30 calendar days are reduction-in-force actions, and shall be accomplished using reduction-in-force procedures. Guerrero also stated that he is aware that a reduction-in-force is for lack of funds.
With CSC regulations also saying that a reduction-in-force, in this instance, is not for disciplinary action, the legislator further pressed Guerrero on his earlier statement that his decision to furlough was based on performance and loyalty.
“Sounds like they were furloughed that were, in fact, based on disciplinary action,” Sablan added, to which the commissioner did not agree with.
“That was based on my evaluation, who I decided to furlough,” Guerrero said, adding that it is based on performance. “We furloughed them [due to] lack of funds. I sought out alternative means that I have. The main reason that they were furloughed was for the lack of funds, and then based on that, I had to make a decision which of the employees that I have get furloughed.”
Sablan further asked whether he is aware that under civil service regulations, seniority and tenure, and protection of the public interest, should be recognized in a reduction-in-force, and that when positions are abolished, the incumbents should have first priority, and that limited-term appointees and recent hires should be cut first.
The commissioner said he is aware, but that he did not recognize and consider seniority when he made his decision to furlough.
At the budget hearing, the Office of the Governor proposed a $4.8 million allotment for DPS, almost half a cut from the $7-million budget the department has originally proposed. This included a $2.1-million cut for personnel, $259,000 for operations.
Guerrero is amenable with the governor’s proposal, but appealed to the members of the House of Representatives to draft legislation for hazard pay and night differential for DPS personnel.