by Mindy Aguon
Guam - The Civil Service Commission decided to postpone hearing motions filed by seven former Port Authority of Guam employees who are appealing their terminations. The seven are fighting to get their jobs back 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.
Former port marketing administrator Bernadette Stern Meno, former personnel specialist Frances Arriola, former program coordinator Josette Javelosa, and former controller Jojo Guevara showed up to last night's packed hearing with their attorneys prepared to argue why their terminations were done in violation of government rules and regulations.
But before the Commission could hear arguments, commissioners disclosed any potential conflicts they had with the parties. CSC board chairman Luis Baza disclosed that his employer had entered into a catering services agreement with the Port's legal counsel Mike Phillips and Mount Carmel School, but he believed he could remain impartial and still hear the cases.
"I make decisions based on facts," said Baza. "I've been here for ten years, so I'm clean. I can decide independently, but I have to disclose that because it's better I do it now and someone pick it up later on then to say that I have a conflict." But Arriola's attorney, Dan Somerfleck objected, saying, "My concern is a business dealing to be very straight forward with the Commission, and I believe that creates a conflict when there is a business dealing with the chairperson and opposing counsel."
Baza recused himself, reminding the other board members that they are the guardians of the merit system.
Commissioner Danny Leon Guerrero removed himself only from the appeals of former corporate services manager Vivian Leon, who he used to work with at the Port 20 years ago, and Meno. He explained his daughter works for Supreme Court Associate Justice Robert Torres, the husband of former Port GM Mary Torres. Somerfleck said, "I have the ability to be objective still but I'd rather just recuse myself from those two cases."
But Meno's attorney, Curtis Van De Veld, urged Leon Guerrero to hear all of the cases as he didn't feel there was any conflict. He explained that Torres would be called as their live witness to testify that she was the general manager back in December when the Port board called a meeting. Van de Veld stated, "Prior to that when the notice of proposed adverse action was offered relative to my client. She refused to sign it and the Port's personnel rules and regulation say it must be signed by the general manager."
The Port's legal counsel, however, believed there is a direct conflict. Mike Phillips said, "It's Leon Guerrero's daughter that works for the husband of the person who is accused of being the leader of the conspiracy. Without her this would not have happened." Phillips adding the cases are all inter-related and recusal from one or two cases would require recusal from all of the cases.
Phillips said, "The problem is they are all integrated. They are all accused of being part of one conspiracy and so to be recused from one really necessitates the recusal of all because they are all globally alleged to be part of one scheme."
Leon Guerrero insisted that he would only remove himself from Meno and Leon's cases, something that board member Lou Hongyee questioned, "So if Bernadette Stern Meno just happened to be a witness, that would be okay?" Board chairman Dan Tydingco replied, "Yes."
Because Javelosa and Guevara made similar arguments in their motions to dismiss, vice chairman Manny Pinauin suggested the commission postpone hearing their appeals. Among other things the two claim their adverse actions should be declared null and void because they believe Port GM Joanne Brown was not "lawfully vested" to issue the adverse action against them because she had been appointed in violation of the law. Pinauan referred to a recent request from port oversight chair, Senator Tom Ada, who believes the terms of board members Tydingco and Mike Benito have expired.
Adelup disagrees, saying the two continue to serve as part of a three year term. The Attorney General's Office has been asked to clarify the matter. Pinauin said, "I would think that the answer of the AG would give you additional guidance in deciding on this case, so I would propose is to defer these two cases."
Because that opinion could impact all of the Port workers' appeals, it was agreed that the hearing be postponed. A status call will be held for Arriola, Guevara and Javelosa on Tuesday while Meno's status call will be held next Thursday. Meno's motions have already been scheduled to be heard on April 16 and again on the 18th.