Do we need to maintain the current level of mayors and mayoral office staffers?
Recent events surrounding mayors and mayors offices have raised an old question of whether Guam needs 19 mayors and the current complement of mayors' staffers.
It points to the larger picture of the size of our government.
During the emergency session on Friday, Vice Speaker Telena Nelson raised a point any reasonable person would consider valid, considering the situation in Yona, which hasn’t had a mayor at the office since September: Are mayors needed?
Senators, including Speaker Tina Muña Barnes and Sen. Telo Taitague, said the village isn’t suffering for a lack of mayor. Additionally, a volunteer Municipal Planning Council is able to address issues at a village level.
Then, recently, The Guam Daily Post found out that Agat Mayor Kevin Susuico and four of his staffers took a trip to the Philippines. That’s a lot of people to be out of an office at the same time. According to a FY2019 fourth-quarter staffing pattern, there are 14 people working at the office, including the mayor. That’s more than 25% of personnel out at the same time.
There aren’t many private-sector offices that could afford to have that many people out at the same time, and we would argue the government shouldn't be able to afford it either. Not while we’re looking at a shortage of police and corrections officers, our only public hospital is falling apart and lacks funding support, our primary public health facility is closed and it's unknown when it will reopen, and our education department doesn’t have textbooks for all students to bring home and study.
Susuico told the Post he and his four staffers used their own personal money for the airfare and accommodations on the nearly weeklong trip to Buenavista town, Guimaras Island in the Philippines – about 300 miles from Manila – last week.
He did acknowledge they would still get paid on government time while in the Philippines representing the "Office of the Agat Mayor."
The Post asked the mayor if there were other priorities in his village he could have attended to instead of going on the trip. Of course, there are other priorities, he said. But he also deemed it important to travel on government time to play the role of a VIP in a small foreign town.
If a mayor and his staffers can be away from their village for that long – or if a mayor can be out of the office for months - and the villages are still intact when they come back, then the logical question that follows is whether all villages need mayors.
As the community considers reducing the senators to part-time, perhaps we also should reconsider the mayoral positions and staff. We already combine several villages under one mayor: Tamuning, Tumon and Harmon have one office; Mongmong, Toto and Maite also fall under one mayor's office; as do Ordot and Chalan Pago. Perhaps more villages can be combined – the smaller villages of south and central Guam can be combined under the jurisdiction of one or two mayors for each region.
And the savings from eliminating the positions of mayors in smaller villages can be used to boost the overwhelmed Dededo, Yigo and Tamuning-Tumon-Harmon mayors' offices.
It's time to do this for the taxpayers' sake.
There are well-meaning senators in the Guam Legislature. We encourage them to speak up and stand up for the people who are relying on them to do what is best for our island and all of its people.