The state archaeologist is asking the governor for help, saying Lynda Aguon’s reinstatement as State Historic Preservation Officer has shocked him and his coworkers.
Archaeologist John Mark Joseph wrote to Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero saying some in the Guam Historic Resources Division, which falls under the Department of Parks and Recreations, said Aguon’s return “is not workable.”
“GHRD staff all feel that we are here for a greater purpose to save Guam’s historic resources and we feel that Ms. Aguon’s actions in the past have gone against the preservation of Guam’s historic resources and caused a hostile environment in the work place,” Joseph wrote. “The emails I received today from the GHRD staff has expressed feelings of returning nightmares, increased anxiety, retaliations and a hostile environment. Ms. Aguon’s department words to some of us here in the office was perceived as a threat, she basically said that what comes around goes around and we would be getting ours.”
On Tuesday night the Guam Civil Service Commission voted in favor of Aguon’s effort to regain her position based on a technicality within the commission’s voting procedures. Aguon had filed for reinstatement of her position as SHPO saying she was wrongfully terminated by Director Richard Ybanez. Aguon was accused of retaliating against or belittling staff, and unauthorized use of a government vehicle, and insubordination.
Aguon's attorney, John Bell, had said his client was unfairly terminated for what amounted to, at worst, "minor instances of insubordination."
According to a proposed order that awaits the final approval of the CSC, Aguon is to be reinstated effective immediately, with full backpay and all attendant benefits she would have been entitled to but for her termination. Aguon is further entitled to reasonable attorney's fees and costs. Management is further enjoined from retaliating against Aguon upon reinstatement.
On Thursday morning, Bell responded to the letter on his client's behalf, saying that it is actually Joseph with whom "everybody has problems with and all he is doing is parroting management's talking points during the hearing."
"I honestly doubt he wrote this by himself," Bell stated. "In any event, the employees don't trump the will of the CSC and retaliation in both directions is already prohibited and Lynda specifically assured the CSC during her testimony she would not retaliate against anyone if she returned."
Joseph’s letter to the governor noted that the staff members felt so strongly about Aguon’s return that there’s been talk of seeking transfers or simply resigning if Aguon returns to the office.
They’re asking the governor to reinstate Aguon “away from our office for the good of Guam’s historic resources and GHRD staff.”
Joseph and four other staffers signed the letter.
On Jan. 14, DPR administrators and Aguon were able to argue their cases in front of commissioners Priscilla T. Tuncap, Andrew Benavente, Emilia Rice, and Chairperson Juan K. Calvo.
Administrative Law Judge Eric Miller read his written decision, which he signed on Dec. 30, 2019. He had recommended, following a hearing in November, that the decision to terminate Aguon be affirmed.
In his findings of fact, conclusion of law and recommendations, Miller wrote that Aguon refused to comply with a May 9, 2019, order to address personal documents from Administrative Assistant Christine Olkeriil, as well as an order not to talk about an investigation of complaints involving her, and that these actions are examples of serious insubordination which support her termination.
At the Jan. 14 hearing, the commissioners asked Miller for more information.
However, they were unable to must four votes to affirmatively modify, reject or accept the ALJ’s findings of fact and conclusions of law.
“Pursuant to the Rule of Four, Management loses as a matter of law for failure to obtain four (4) affirmative votes in order to meet its burden of proof of clear and convincing evidence,” according to a proposed order.
DPR management is required to calculate back pay due to Aguon, including all benefits and entitlements, the proposed order also states. Bell is also required to submit his request for attorney's fees and costs within 30 days from the effective date of the order.
DPR management has 30 days from the effective date of the order to file a petition for judicial review.
Aguon is expected to receive about $45,000 in base backpay at this point.
In response to the decision of the CSC, Aguon stated:
"These past seven months have been very very hard for me and my family. I've been put through the wringer, my work character impugned, lies exploited, and quite frankly, victimized. When powers that be are brought to bear on an individual employee, it is difficult to defend against it because you stand alone.
I was summarily - without delay, "thrown" out of my job for various personal reasons. All I ever wanted to do is my job that I regard as very important to the community, and most especially, important to the Chamorro people. After 35 plus years in public service, I was terminated without a thought as to how I would live; I lost my only income, my health insurance, and my retirement. Whatever resources I had have been spent...but through all this turmoil, my faith in God did not falter, it was strengthened.
I thank God for the Government of Guam Merit System and the Civil Service Commission; and for the unending support of my family and friends, and to my representatives, Robert Koss, and Attorney John Richard Bordallo Bell, both of whom have always encouraged me on. Dångkolu na Si Yu'os Ma'åse'."