Not long after Consolidated Commission on Utilities Chairman Joey Duenas owned up to what he called an error – that the closed-door board meeting that discussed pay raises and bonuses should have been open to the public – the CCU doubled down on its lack of transparency.
If the CCU truly acknowledges that the meeting on pay raises and bonuses for executive managers and power and water agency legal counsels was held behind closed doors by mistake, and the elected commissioners didn't mean to keep the public from hearing and seeing their discussions, then the commission shouldn't have any problem when The Guam Daily Post requests the minutes from the meeting.
Instead of releasing the public records, CCU had its board secretary write a letter Wednesday that the minutes of the Nov. 27, 2018, closed-door meeting, at which bonuses and pay raises were approved for the island's utility executives, "will not be disclosed."
In her denial letter, CCU board Secretary Lou Sablan wrote that the executive session in question "was held to perform personnel evaluations of several employees of GWA and GPA."
Disclosure of the minutes, Sablan wrote, "would be an unwarranted invasion of the employee's personal privacy and therefore excepted from disclosure." She cited Chapter 5 of the Guam Code Annotated.
As an interesting side note, having the CCU board secretary write the letter denying the request for records under the Freedom of Information Act was a deviation from what's normal. Typically, the chairman of the CCU or the legal counsel of Guam Power Authority or Guam Waterworks Authority would write such a letter of public importance. The GWA and GPA legal counsels' own pay raises were approved in the same secret meeting, so maybe they felt it wasn't right for them to say they can't release records about them?
But if GWA and GPA managers felt they deserve the raises and bonuses, wouldn't they be proud to let the public know the extent and details of their discussions on what justified these perks?
The Open Government Law is as clear as day: "Under no circumstances ... shall a public agency hold an executive or closed meeting to discuss salaries, salary levels or salary adjustments of any employee or officer."
The law goes on to state that "all such discussions or decisions must be held in a public meeting and minutes shall be kept and opened to the public."
And even when board and commission meetings have a reason to hold a closed-door meeting, including to discuss legal matters or job performance issues, Guam's Open Government Law requires that the discussion become public eventually.
The Open Government Law states, for closed-door meetings, "The transcript of such meeting shall be sealed for a period of six months, and shall thereafter be a public document unless there is a court order, further sealing the transcript. Before issuing such an order, the court must read the transcript in camera and determine that the Agency would be unduly prejudiced by the release of the transcript, taking into account the public's right to know."
It's been alleged in previously released court documents unrelated to the CCU that another public entity, the Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority board, in the previous administration, was holding secret meetings to discuss policy decisions that impact the public and public funds.
It took a massive raid by federal agents, including from the FBI, to uncover electronic documents that showed what the GHURA board discussed in these secret meetings. Some of the GHURA board members are still facing charges in court.
Back to the CCU, there are a couple of very smart people on the commission. We hope they steer the CCU in the right path.