Guam State Historic Preservation Officer Lynda Aguon has been fired by Parks and Recreation Director Richard Ibanez.
Janela Carrera, the governor’s spokeswoman confirmed that Aguon was served with a notice of final adverse action Tuesday.
In a brief statement, Carrera said - “The Governor was not aware that the State Historic Preservation Officer would be served with a Notice of Final Adverse Action at the time it occurred. She is aware of it now.”
The SHPO is the supervisor of the Guam Historic Resources Division which is part of the Department of Parks and Recreation.
Carrera said DPR director Ibanez would serve as the acting SHPO for the time being.
Guam Federation of Teachers union representative Robert Koss represents Aguon. He said Aguon “has no prior disciplinary history after 35 years of service.”
However he noted that Aguon “has been involved in a number of different activities that may have slowed down some construction progress” related to the military buildup.
He said Aguon believes that her dismissal was retaliation for her outspoken criticism of the military buildup.
“My concern is that there might be some outside influence here,” said Koss. “But we don’t have any evidence of that.”
Koss noted that Aguon filed a grievance on April 8, 2019 with deputy director Victor Villagomez over the reassignment of one of her staff members to another office.
In her grievance Aguon expressed her “displeasure” at the transfer which she said “has hampered and will continue to hamper” the SHPO.
"To detail the employee to the director's office is unreasonable and a total disregard of the division's mandate," wrote Aguon in her grievance.
After 35 years of service Aguon is eligible for retirement, said Koss, but he has recommended that she file an appeal with the Civil Service Commission.
“The adverse action seems to be based largely on that grievance,” said Koss. He said Aguon was cited for using a government vehicle to serve the grievance form to (Richard Ibanez).”
“Clearly that’s an official function” said Koss. Use of a vehicle in such cases is “standard” he said. “I’m struggling to understand why it’s such a big event when it wasn’t for anyone else.,” said Koss.
The adverse action “is rather convoluted,” said Koss. “They’ve got a 100 different reasons” for terminating her. “It’s really hard to know what the real reason is.”
He called the listed reasons “trifles” saying “none of these incidents rise to the level to warrant a termination.”
He said Aguon was also accused of raising her voice to another employee, and “making false statements during the (adverse action) investigation.”
"I don’t really know what false statements she’s accused of making,” said Koss.
The investigation, he said, involved Assistant Attorney General Donna Lawrence.
“Mr. Ibanez brought in Donna Lawrence from the AG’s office from the get-go to oversee this dog and pony show,” he said.
In the final notice of adverse action Lawrence asserts that “making a false statement during an administrative investigation would constitute a criminal act under 9 GCA,” said Koss.
“That’s Donna Lawrence’s conclusion. I’m in pretty strong disagreement with it," he said.
“There is no criminal matter pending,” said Koss.
“She’s an attorney, she knows where she’s going. She’s looking ahead and she knows we’ll be in front of the Civil Service Commission so she wants to make it as easy as she can to win the case.”
“When she gets to (the Civil Service Commission) she can argue that this is a criminal matter and she has a lower standard of proof,” said Koss. “You have a lower standard of proof if you can accuse somebody of a crime.”
Sen. Therese Terlaje who chairs the legislature's committee on historic preservation issued a statement saying she is "deeply troubled" by Aguon's termination "in the midst of one of the largest construction projects in our recent history, including the bulldozing of 5000 acres of limestone forest and numerous historic sites."
"We are in desperate need of persistent and loud voices pushing for historic preservation," said the senator "particularly as DOD continues to insist destruction is “unavoidable”.
Terlaje said that Aguon "has been one of Guam’s biggest and sometimes only advocate for the protection of precious cultural and historical resources while many remain silent."
Guam Preservation Trust Executive Director Joe Quinata said he was “stunned” to hear of Aguon’s termination and is concerned about the impact this will have.
“It does put a set back into this whole process,” Quinata said. “The State Historic Preservation Officer is responsible and takes the lead in the Programmatic Agreement between the military and the government of Guam. There’s ultimately going to be some delays.”
Quinata said he worked alongside Aguon for many years. “Her heart is in it. Her whole perspective is all into preserving and protecting our cultural resources. She has a lot of challenges, a huge undertaking.”