A recall vote for Yona Mayor Jesse Blas who has been detained while awaiting his trial could come down to whether Speaker Tina Muna Barnes will call for an emergency session.
Vice Speaker Telena Nelson, during Wednesday morning's public hearing on Bill 259-35, noted the March 8, 2020 deadline for a recall vote.
Bill 259, which Nelson introduced following meetings with residents of Yona, would call for and appropriate funding for a special election to remove Blas because he hasn’t been able to perform his duties as mayor. He was arrested in September and it’s unclear how much longer he’ll be caught up in the judicial system as his trial moves forward.
"I know there are concerns for the motives of a recall election," Nelson said. "I understand there is also concern - well the big elephant in the room - there is so many people that want to run for mayor. So they are using this as an opportune time to push for a recall."
She called it a delicate situation.
"I also believe elected leaders should be able to perform their duties and be available to the public during their time in office. I also believe a Municipal Planning Council should have been appointed ... This is a very uncomfortable bill."
Nelson said she would talk to Speaker Barnes about calling an emergency session as soon possible. Additionally, Nelson said she would work with Sen. Joe San Agustin, whose committee held the public hearing, on a committee report; and also work with Sen. Regine Biscoe Lee who is rules committee chairperson, to ensure the committee report is posted online.
Last September, Blas was indicted in federal court for alleged bribery and extortion charges. He stands accused of receiving bribes in exchange for providing an alleged drug-dealing operation access to cluster mailboxes under the mayor's office's control. His trial is scheduled for Feb. 4.
He is scheduled to appear back in court on Jan. 22 and his trial is scheduled for Feb. 4. This year is an election year for mayors.
Local resident Ken Leon Guerrero was at the hearing to testify in support of Bill 259, saying it ought to move as expeditiously as possible.
“I encourage the speaker to call a special (session) tomorrow … and begin the first step of restoring the trust between the government and the people,” he said.
He said the mayor’s case is part of what’s shaping a landscape of fear on island where the law seems to favor criminals and that law-abiding residents are “becoming prisoners” in their homes.
“You go to Home Depot and people are buying security cameras,” he said, adding that more people also are signing up for gun safety courses. “People who I never in my wildest dreams would buy guns are buying guns … Slowly we are becoming prisoners.”
Sen. Jose ‘Pedo’ Terlaje, former Yona mayor and now one of the members of the newly formed Yona Municipal Council asked Leon Guerrero: “Do you believe due process should be given to anybody?”
Leon Guerrero answered, yes.
To which Sen. Terlaje asked: “And you’re pushing for a recall?”
Franklin Hiton, a Yona resident who is currently petitioning for the recall of the mayor, said the issue is clear, in that Blas is “not there to perform his duties.”
Maria Pangelinan, Guam Election Commission executive director, said there are two questions Yona residents need to answer in two separate votes: the first is whether or not to recall the current mayor. Pangelinan said 1,050 ‘yes’ votes needed for successful recall.
"Based on our estimates the cost is $22,850 for that election. Then, if it's successful and the commission can certify then we go on to prepare for a special election," Pangelinan said, noting the special election takes at least two weeks to prepare and includes issuing candidate packets and vetting them, then putting together ballots and election for Yona.
"The critical element is that the vacancy must exist before the 240 days (leading up to general election)," she said, as she told senators two weeks to prepare is realistic.
Vice Speaker Nelson proposed that if they miss deadline that a moratorium be in place.
"I am just a little concerned about the timeline we are talking about," said Sen. Jose Terlaje stated.
"The court hearing for the mayor is scheduled for Feb. 4 and we're talking about March. So let's for example the mayor is found guilty, do we have to go for a recall election? Let's say for example that the mayor is found not guilty, are we going to go ahead with the recall?"
Sen. Jose Terlaje said the timeframe is not realistic.
"We are talking out of the air," he said. "We need to really consider that once the court hearing comes, and I still feel we should let the court decide. We live in a democratic society. So what is the problem with waiting to let the court decide before going into Bill 259.
"I speak for the Yona people because I am from Yona,” he added.
"It is not the fact that the residents of Yona doesn't want to sign the petition. It's just that the people of Yona are really a close community. And Jesse Blas, for example, stays right in the center of Yona. It's not a matter of people being afraid to sign that petition."
Terlaje said it's "the way we live. "