Ethics Commission hampered by lack of funding 6

STARTING UP: Attorney Eric Miller, of the Guam Civil Service Commission, provides guidance to the new Ethics Commission during their first meeting held Wednesday in Anigua. David Castro/The Guam Daily Post

The Guam Ethics Commission waited more than two decades to hold its inaugural meeting. On Wednesday afternoon, it did. But as members learned yesterday, the commission will have to wait a little longer before it can properly administer its duties.  

The Ethics Commission, charged with handling ethics complaints against government employees, has neither budget nor staff, according to Civil Service Commission Administrative Law Judge Eric Miller.

It also doesn’t have the documentation to receive complaints, or even the money to post public announcements of its meetings. 

“Because you have no staff, nothing can actually be done. You don’t even have the capacity to receive a complaint at this point. ... There’s no process in place for the commission to do anything until you have the funding to have staff,” Miller said.

Governor says she’ll help ethics advocates get needed resources

The public notice on Monday, announcing Wednesday’s meeting, was paid by the governor’s office. Krystal Paco, the governor’s press secretary, said Adelup will work with the Ethics Commission to get it the resources it needs. 

Meanwhile, the initial meeting was held at the CSC hearing room. 

Miller and CSC staff helped the ethics group with its initial steps, such as selecting an Ethics Commission chairperson.

But Miller made it clear that the CSC couldn’t help handle any ethics complaints or investigations. That would pose a conflict to the agency, because it may have to hear employee adverse action cases resulting from Ethics Commission decisions.  

“On top of that, everything you do is confidential and, by law, you are not allowed to disclose to persons not employed by the commission data that you’re collecting,” Miller said.

Created in 1996, accidentally disbanded; re-established in 2004

The Ethics Commission has been inactive for 23 years. It was first created in 1996 and re-established in 2004 after another law disbanding inactive boards inadvertently abolished the commission. 

Guam law requires that nominees of the governor serve as commissioners but no appointments were made until earlier this year, when the Leon Guerrero-Tenorio administration tapped six people for the job: Robert Jack, Shannon Murphy, Margaret Tyquiengco, Donnalyn Camacho, Marilyn Borja and Christopher Cruz. 

Camacho was yesterday chosen by fellow commissioners to act as chairwoman; Borja was named vice chairwoman.

“Your first challenge is to get the funding from the governor’s office or the Legislature, so that you can hire a director, staff ... all those kinds of things,” Miller said. 

Most of Monday’s hourlong meeting was spent discussing how the commission could move forward. Topics included what its cost might be and having a meeting with the governor to discuss resources. 

Commissioner: Emails about complaints are already coming in

Commissioner Murphy said she has received emails from people who know she is in the ethics commission, informing her that they want to file a complaint. 

“Some of them are about things that happened years ago,” Murphy said. “So I don’t know really what the rules are. Are we gonna start with this administration. Are we going to go to the past?” 

Miller said the Ethics Commission has the authority hear complaints regardless of when the alleged transgressions occurred. But it may choose not to consider complaints, based on factors such as time.

Miller also told commissioners to advise people contacting them to wait until the commission has a staff to fairly process complaints. Otherwise, there may be concerns about the commission’s fairness, because certain complainants knew them personally while others don’t know how to contact them.

Adviser: Commission’s budget might be about $1M per year

The CSC provided a recommended organizational chart to the Ethics Commission. In addition to an executive director, the commission will need an administrative officer, a clerical support staff and investigators, Miller said. The Ethics Commission will also need to buy a database and maintain a website.

Miller said he and Roland Fejerang, the CSC personnel management administrator, have discussed what they believe will be the initial volume of work coming into the Ethics Commission.

The commission may be looking at $1 million per year to run the organization, he added.

Reporting on utilities, education and other topics.