Is UOG violating the Open Government Law? - KUAM.com-KUAM News: On Air. Online. On Demand.

Is UOG violating the Open Government Law?

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 by Isa Baza

Guam - The Open Government Law is simple: it allows you and I the right to know what our government is doing in terms of creating public policy and being informed about the decisions that they make. The law mandates that every meeting of a public agency shall be open and public and that any person shall be permitted to attend with certain exceptions. Last month KUAM was told to leave a meeting of the University of Guam Regents Nominating Council only minutes after it began.   We were turned away only minutes after the council meeting began. The reason? We were told they were going into executive session to discuss regent nominees.  

Council member Cathleen Moore-Linn said, "Open government, we are required to post our meeting dates, which we do to the general public, so anybody who wants to attend our meetings can do so and then we conduct our meeting like any other meeting, which is open to the public, except for when we go into executive session." Executive session means no outsiders can witness the meeting discussion, and Moore-Linn says this only happens when discussing potential nominees.

According to Guam law, the council's sole purpose is to vet the potential nominees for the board of regents through "an open and systematic nomination process". These nominees are then sent to the governor who then makes appointments which must be confirmed by the legislature.

University of Guam professor Ron McNinch, thinks this lack of transparency with the RNC violates the Open Government Law, saying, "In general, there are several reasons why a public meeting can be closed, in executive session and things like that, I don't believe the Regent Nominating Council is doing anything that even touches on any of those."

Reasons bodies can enter executive session include meeting with the attorney general or police, discussing issues that pose a threat to public safety, health, or welfare, or issues regarding appointment, employment, or dismissal of a public officer or employee. McNinch says none of these criteria fit the council, noting, "Regents at the University of Guam are not employees, they're not personnel, they're wonderful members of the community who seek to be appointed to serve on our board as volunteers."

Because they are not personnel and merely nominees rather than appointees, McNinch argues executive session cannot be called to discuss their applications.

Although McNinch is concerned there is a lack of transparency with the UOG Regent Nominating Council, Moore-Linn says the council does its due diligence to adhere to the Open Government Law. "You came in and you saw our election of officers," she recalled, adding, "so and then at that point we went into executive session again to discuss potential applicants."

She says this is due to discussion of personal information, saying, "When we go into executive session we are discussing individuals, we're discussing their resumes, we're discussing their standing in the community."

While both McNinch and Moore-Linn clearly disagree on the interpretation of the law, the Guam Legislature's Freedom of Information Advisory Council serves as a venue where complaints or concerns about potential violations of the Open Government Law can be filed and decided.

However, the FOIA Council has been dormant since the last election, with its last meeting held in October of 2014.  

Senator Rory Respicio was in charge of overseeing the FOIA Council's last term, however calls to his office on the status of the Legislative FOIA Council have gone unreturned.
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