Public Auditor Benjamin Cruz said he cautioned the Guam Housing and Urban Renewal Authority on Thursday against awarding retroactive salary increases at this time.

The very next day, the GHURA board approved 4% salary increases retroactive to January, as a result of a June performance evaluation that was supposed to have been done in January.

The public auditor met with GHURA officials on Thursday as part of an ongoing performance audit on the agency related to unclassified employees.

Details and results of the performance audit will be made public once the Office of the Public Accountability releases its report.

"We have recommendations that will be made public when we release the audit, but I can assure you it was not to recommend that retroactive pay increases be awarded now," Cruz told The Guam Daily Post on Tuesday.

Among those in the meeting with the public auditor were GHURA Executive Director Ray Topasna and board Chairman Sabino Flores.

The GHURA board approved a 4% salary increase for Topasna and GHURA Deputy Director Elizabeth Napoli, as a result of their overall "highly satisfactory" performance rating in June.

That evaluation was supposed to have been done in January, long before Guam was placed on lockdown and other restrictions because of the COVID-19 pandemic. That evaluation covers Jan. 11, 2019, to Jan. 10, 2020.

Topasna said in order to address some of OPA's concerns, GHURA "proceeded to have the board ratify adjustments."

Senators have since criticized GHURA for approving a salary increase in GovGuam during a public health state of emergency when more than 30,000 private sector jobs have been affected.

'Not the right time'

Topasna on Tuesday said he directed his staff "not to process immediately after the board had approved."

"Again, the intent was not to proceed but to address concerns that were discussed with OPA just the day before (Thursday). We are confident the audit will reflect that we did everything in accordance with law," he said.

When asked when GHURA will process the pay increases, Topasna said, "Not the right time, so no date."

"We recognize that many in our community are suffering. Nonetheless, getting the board to ratify these actions (was) necessary because it is already eight months behind schedule," Topasna said. "Delaying the implementation was never an issue. Not getting board action with a pending audit release was the issue."

When asked whether he needed to tell the GHURA board, which approved the salary increases, that these adjustments will not be processed immediately, Topasna said "the board does not interfere with operations unless I am derelict in my responsibility."

"For the record, most GovGuam staffers, when they receive a performance rating of 'Satisfactory' (or better) will receive a pay increment. My wife just received hers in April/May while employed with the Department of Public Health and Social Services," Topasna said.

He also said this obligation continues even today for GovGuam.

"The Guam Legislature restored increments for FY20 in the budget law. You are trying to find fault with something authorized by law," he said.

Topasna's changed salary rate is $159,498 a year, a $6,019 bump from his prior pay of $153,479, based on GHURA's notification of personnel action or salary increment.

The document was signed by Flores on June 23, ratified or approved by the board on Sept. 11, and is retroactive to Jan. 11.

Napoli's salary rate is changed to $111,244 a year, a $4,259 increase from $106,985, GHURA documents show. It's signed June 23 and is retroactive to Jan. 14.

Cruz said GHURA officials didn't indicate to him during their nearly hourlong meeting on Thursday that the GHURA board would act on the retroactive salary increases the very next day.

GHURA's late completion of its audited financial statements also significantly delayed the issuance of GovGuam's 2019 audited financial statements due on June 30, OPA had said.

Haidee Eugenio Gilbert

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