by Mindy Aguon
Guam - After providing disclosures of any potential conflicts in hearing the termination appeals of seven former Port Authority of Guam employees, the Civil Service Commission board decided to postpone Thursday's hearing on motions filed by the workers. The seven workers are appealing their terminations and are accused of being involved in a conspiracy to give alleged illegal benefits related to an alleged work injury and conspiring to cover up those actions.
The meeting began with CSC Board Chair Luis Baza recusing himself hearing the appeal cases. Baza disclosed that his employer had entered into an agreement with Mt. Carmel School for catering services and he had worked with the Port's legal counsel Mike Phillips to secure that contract. The chairman believed he could still hear the appeals saying he makes decisions based on facts and believed he could be impartial.
Former Port staffer Frances Arriola's attorney, Daniel Somerfleck, objected to Baza hearing the appeals because it involved a business transaction. Former Port Marketing Administrator Bernadette Stern Meno's attorney Curtis Van de Veld meanwhile opposed Baza's recusal, saying he wanted to see a copy of the business agreement and review the termination clause to see if Phillips could use his power to terminate the contract. Baza said his employer's contract contained "trade secrets" and would not be disclosed.
As a result he left the meeting, leaving Vice Chairman Manuel Pinauin to lead the hearing.
Board member Danny D. Leon Guerrero also disclosed potential conflicts, noting that he did not want to hear the appeals of Former Corporate Services Manager Vivian Leon or Meno explaining that he used to work with Leon at the port more than two decades ago.
Additionally he explained that his daughter works for Supreme Court Associate Justice Robert Torres, the husband of former Port GM Mary Torres, who is expected to be called as a live witness for Meno's appeal. Leon Guerrero was asked if he would recuse himself when Meno and Leon were called as witnesses in other cases and he said he would not. Attorney Phillips explained that all of the cases are "inter-related" and they will provide testimony and evidence against Leon that will show she was a "ringleader' in the alleged conspiracy along with Torres.
The legal counsel adding that without them, the conspiracy wouldn't have happened.
Because former PAG Program Coordinator Josette Javelosa and former Port Controller Jose Guevara had similar arguments that were filed relative to their motion to dismiss, Pinauin suggested that the commission postpone hearing those appeals. Javelosa and Guevara have alleged that their adverse actions should be declared null and void because they claim that Port General Manager Joanne Brown was not "lawfully vested" to take adverse action against the employees because they allege the board appointed her as GM in violation of the law when they appointed Brown.
Pinauin referred to a request from Port oversight chair Senator Tom Ada, who believes the terms of two PAG board members, Dan Tydingco and Mike Benito, have expired and have acted illegally. Senator Ada indicated during a recent informational hearing on the agency that it appears there was an oversight during the appointment process of the board members.
The Democrat lawmaker believes Tydingco and Benito were appointed to fulfill the unexpired terms of previous board members they replaced. Adelup however argues the two are serving a three year term and their appointment is still valid. The Attorney General was asked to provide an opinion to clarify the matter.
Pinauin stated that the legal opinion "would give the commission additional guidance in deciding on this case". He proposed to defer Javelosa and Guevara's cases until the opinion is received. All of the attorneys did not object to a continuance of the hearing and commissioners agreed to hold a status call with Arriola, Guevara and Javelosa on Tuesday and a status call for Meno on Thursday. Meno will also have her motions heard on April 16 and April 18.
Attorney Van de Veld renewed his call for the commission to act on his request to allow him to present former Port GM Torres to testify on his client's behalf. The Commission will allow the port's legal counsel to brief the matter and then make their decision.
The CSC's legal counsel, Sophia Santos Diaz, recused herself from representing the commission on the Port appeals due to a conflict of interest.
Port Police and Guam Police Department officers were on hand for Thursday night's meeting. On Thursday a Port employee reported that they had been threatened by an individual related to the ongoing Port case. Law enforcement authorities were notified to investigate the threat that was made toward an employee, their co-workers, and their family.