Cruz questions discrepancies with Port contract
Guam - Vice Speaker B.J. Cruz says information he's received from the Port Authority of Guam regarding its legal services contract isn't adding up. But the agency refutes those accusations defending the payments to their law firm of Philips and Bordallo.
Cruz said, "But the thing is I'm trying to figure out how you're continuing to run up attorneys fees not knowing whether or not you can pay for them."
Since an information briefing with the port back in march, Cruz has been researching the amount of money the agency's been spending on its legal counsel, the Phillips and Bordallo firm. "The port is understanding of his endeavor to make sure that the public resources are adequately and properly spent," he said.
According to a press release from the vice speaker, he says after receiving a response to his Freedom of Information Act request regarding the port's legal services contract. There were serious anomalies with the ports' records and cited irregularities with billing trends. The vice speaker wants an explanation for example why the port was being billed for services rendered nine months later when previously the average period between service dates and invoice submissions was less than one month.
According to port board chairman Dan Tydingco they can appreciate and understand the vice speaker's keen interest. "We're looking at that as a matter of fact when this board first took charge we wanted to grab a hold of the legal services because it had run, had been running amuck and the prior to the current legal counsel came on we had estimated that there was probably $750,000 worth of legal billings by the predecessor firm. So the board came in and said okay lets get our arms around this, be a little bit more responsible with how the utilization of legal services are rendered here for the port on behalf of the port. And we had put a cap on each year of $499,000 the first two years there was no question about it the firm had come in way under that and we were pleased that despite the number of issues that were handled by the port and the management the firm was working very well and they still do perform very well. This, for this particular year it's a little bit more extraordinary given the fact that there's an unanticipated work namely in the realm of personnel administration, adverse actions," he said.
As we reported seven port employees were terminated for their role in an alleged involvement in a scheme to defraud the government and cover it up. They have since filed appeals with the Civil Service Commission.
Tydingco said, "Additionally the law firm has been working alongside the management to handle a lot of the legislative mandates that are required of us from making sure we have those POLA cranes purchases making sure that the contract and agreements are correct and proper making sure that we have recently the legislation for the service life extension for the loan that's being processed through GEDA and Bank of Guam, so it's not without justification that the legal services have been utilized and rendered accordingly."
What the vice speaker may have been right about was his question regarding whether the port had two legal counsels. "One of the things that I thought was kind of curious to me is that he pointed out asking whether or not we had another legal attorney what we found out unbeknownst to us was the prior management was retaining legal services without a duly valid contract. And this is part of is the prior management which are no longer here with the port so those are questions that are being reviewed and analyzed right now," he said.
The vice speaker in the meantime has requested additional information for the port's legal services ledger for Fiscal Years 2011-2013 to help him in his continuing investigation.
Meanwhile, during today's port board meeting, general manager Joanne Brown says she is finalizing the port's response and expects to address this at the port's next oversight hearing tentatively set for next month.