Speaker Tina Muña Barnes made an unexpected appearance at a special meeting of the Mayors' Council of Guam Wednesday morning, hoping to receive input on the issues surrounding the absence of Yona Mayor Jesse Blas, who is detained on federal bribery charges.
Prior to this, the speaker participated in a public hearing for Bill 259-35, which would mandate a recall election, as Blas remains in office regardless of detention.
A recall petition was approved by the Guam Election Commission but it has struggled to obtain the signatures needed to trigger a recall election prior to a deadline in March.
Speaker Barnes, who denied a request for an emergency session on Wednesday, has left island for a funeral. That left Vice Speaker Telena Nelson as acting speaker, in that capacity she is able to call for an emergency session of the Legislature for senators to discuss the bill. The emergency session is scheduled for 10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 17. Nelson introduced the bill after meeting with Yona residents in two village meetings, a number of whom were frustrated that their elected mayor wasn't at his office to perform his duties.
Chalan Pago-Ordot Mayor Jessy Gogue said the concerns appeared to be that there are documents and other matters that only a mayor can address and the situation could be resolved by legislation that allows a municipal planning council to recommend the appointment of an acting mayor by the governor, which would allow Blas to return if he is acquitted of the charges.
"It doesn't replace him. It doesn't remove him because, as you pointed out, there are some legal concerns. He's innocent until proven guilty and that's been a sentiment I've heard from residents of Yona that have been supporters of the mayor," Gogue said.
Sen. Jose "Pedo" Terlaje is on the right track with his bill that authorizes the governor to appoint an acting mayor within 30 days of absence, Gogue added. Similar legislation was law on Guam until it was repealed in February 2014.
MCOG Executive Director Angel Sablan said he believed the main issue with Yona residents was there is no one they can physically speak to. Commenting on Bill 259, Sablan noted difficulties with the recall petition and that there was no guarantee residents will vote in favor of recall.
"There's a petition out there for a recall and there's no traction on it ... So what makes us think we can provide for a recall election that the people are going to say yes?" Sablan said.
Mayor Rudy Paco, from Mongmong-Toto-Maite, suggested allowing the administrative assistant to serve as the acting mayor.
"If the governor elects a temporary mayor, that temporary mayor does not know what the AA knows," he said.
Sinajana Mayor Robert Hofmann said in prior cases were mayors were appointed, there's always been consultation with concerns in the village.
Barnes said she personally wanted to mandate the appointment of a municipal planning council, which can help oversee the village in a mayor's absence. That was one of the issues with Blas, as he did not appoint a council prior to his arrest.
Sablan said law already required appointment of a planning council and suggested legislating penalties for not appointing a council within 30 days of coming into office, such as preventing the spending of money for the office or installing a fine.
Barnes said some concerns during the public hearing included the personal or political interest of those who spoke in political forums as they also eyed the Yona mayor's seat, and that there are multiple bills related to the issue, so why was only one being heard.
"I'm trying to be as fair as possible," she said.