House Committee Nixes Rep. Sablan's OGA Request in Closed Door Meeting

September 11, 2009


The House Ways and Means Committee chaired by Rep. Ray Yumul voted on Friday (Saipan time) not to take action on Rep. Tina Sablan's request to exercise their legislative authority to obtain certain financial records related to the Governor's federalization lawsuit. The request had been submitted as a formal House Communication during the House session held on Tuesday, September 8, 2009.

Rep. Sablan was hoping that the committee would exercise their authority to obtain financial records related to the anti-federal lawsuit filed in September 2008 at a huge expense to the cash-strapped CNMI government and without the authorization of the CNMI Legislature. She requested documents from the Governor's Office and Secretary of Finance last fall. When they refused to disclose the documents, she took the case to the CNMI Superior Court court where Associate Judge Wiseman ruled that all but a few documents should be released. The CNMI Government appealed to the CNMI Supreme Court. Two weeks ago the Supreme Court justices affirmed the lower court's ruling and ordered the documents released. Rep. Sablan said some documents were missing and some were overly redacted.

From Rep. Sablan's request to the CNMI House:
Two types of financial records were specifically withheld by the courts as privileged records that would not be available under the Open Government Act because they would reveal litigation strategy while the 903 lawsuit is still pending. These records are the engagement letter/contract with Jenner & Block and the detailed billing invoices. Though not available under the Open Government Act at this time, these records are well within the authority of the Legislature to examine, and indeed the administration has explicitly acknowledged in its briefings before the courts that the Legislature has not only the right, but also the responsibility, to scrutinize all the records requested.

There also appear to be significant gaps in the records released thus far. For example, the Jenner & Block invoice summaries released cover the time period beginning on August 26, 2008 and ending on February 27, 2009; the Department of Finance records only show payments made to Jenner & Block between October 2008 and April 2009. The agreement between the Governor's Office and Jenner & Block was first effectuated, however, on June 6, 2008 and the 903 lawsuit continues to this day.
Moreover, although the court had only authorized the redaction of private and sensitive bank account numbers in the records ordered for release, the Attorney General's Office apparently took the liberty of also redacting other public expenses that may have been connected to the Governor's federalization lawsuit that were shown on the fund status reports ordered for release, and names of contact persons and other information on the records showing wire transfers between the CNMI government and Jenner & Block. In addition, although the records released show at least six separate retainer payments made to Jenner & Block between October 2008 and April 2009, the Governor's memo authorizing the first payment is missing, and at least three wire transfer authorizations made in November 2008 and January 2009 appear to also be missing. Further, although Mr. Willens' professional services contract with the Governor's Office had been released in April 2009 pursuant to the Open Government Act requests, the records released in August do not show any payments made to Mr. Willens.
Rep. Sablan said, "According to Rep. Yumul, the members preferred to complete their work on the budget for FY 2010 first, and to reconsider my request for the financial records related to the ongoing lawsuit at a later time."

The Ways & Means Committee members who attended the meeting held Friday, September 11, 2009 were: Reps. Ray Yumul (Chair), Dave Apatang, Ralph Torres, Justo Quitugua, Stanley Torres, Diego Benavente, and Ray Tebuteb. Rep. Rosemond Santos came in late; Reps. Edwin Aldan and Vic Hocog were absent.

Rep Sablan said, "The meeting was unrecorded and held behind closed doors, and offers one more example for why the Open Government Act should apply to the Legislature. Since I was, after all, the House member requesting Ways & Means Committee action, I had asked Rep. Yumul to at least notify me as to when and where the meeting would be held. I was not notified, however, and according to Rep. Yumul, the members had actually declined to invite me."

It appears that not only is the Governor's office attempting to hide documents and information concerning the anti-federalization lawsuit, but the CNMI legislature is assisting the office in doing do.

In a statement issued today Rep Sablan said:
" I am disappointed, of course, by the decision of the committee to defer action. I do appreciate the importance of preparing a sound and balanced budget for FY 2010, and for that reason would expect that my colleagues would want to carefully examine the implications of this costly public lawsuit not only for the current fiscal year, but for the next one as well. It is clear that they do not. But less clear is why they do not -- especially in light of the facts that 1) the legislature had actually rejected the administration's request to appropriate funds for the lawsuit in the first place last year; and 2) the administration has explicitly acknowledged the right and responsibility of the legislature to examine the records in question.

Rep. Yumul has stated that a written report on the committee's decision today is forthcoming. The committee report should shed light on the members' rationale for taking no action on my request. Frankly, however, I expect that the report will instead raise more questions than answers -- much like the incomplete documents that have been turned over thus far by the administration.

These past ten months, taxpayers and citizens of the CNMI have rightfully been asking, "What is the administration hiding?" with respect to financial records for a lawsuit that has been filed in their name. Now they may also ask why their own elected representatives are apparently unwilling to find out."
Rep. Sablan said that she plans to appeal to the presiding officers of the House and will submit follow-up requests to the administration pursuant to the Open Government Act.

If the CNMI Superior Court ordered documents released and some records were incomplete or improperly redacted can Rep. Sablan formally inform the Superior Court or the Supreme Court so that they can order any missing documents and redacted documents released? If the Governor's Office did withhold documents that were ordered released and redacted public information from some of the released documents wouldn't that office be in violation of court orders?

The fact that the committee wants to put off requesting information on the documents indicates that they are playing political games, perhaps because of an upcoming election. It does not appear that they serving the interest of the public which has a right to know how public funds are spent.

46 comments:

Anonymous said...

THROW THE RASCALS OUT!!!

Anonymous said...

I find the lack of action on the part of Representative Yumul's Committee to be very unprofessional! Every member of the House Ways and Means Committee should want to know the source of the public funds as well as the amount paid or obligated on the anti-federal lawsuit.They and their counterparts in the Senate control the purse strings for the Executive and Judicial Branches of the CNMI government. Without the type of information requested by Tina, how can the Legislature operate effectively? The House was invited to join the lawsuit as plaintiffs and Howard Willens crossed the parking lot to make a pitch to get them on board. The invitation was declined,in part, because it was felt that the CNMI lacked the resources! In spite of this action, a majority of the members lack the courage to find out how much public money was reprogrammed to the Governor's Discretionary Account. It appears that the only member of the House with any "balls" is Tina Sablan. We definitely need more like her! This episode demonstrates once again the need to put the CNMI Legislature under the Open Government Act.

Anonymous said...

Go Ray!

Anonymous said...

It's incredible that Stanley Torres says that the information is privileged but that he was able to see it.

This is incredulous since he can now be dragged into court to reveal what he saw.

The privilege protects the document/information from outside party and unless Stanley (reed warbler, ghost employee's employer) is a party, he has no right to see the information.

Kick Stanley and all his colleagues from office. I know I will only vote for Christina; no other incumbent.

Anonymous said...

No, there is nothing incredible about the Governor sharing the privileged documents for viewing by a legislator. A demand by the U.S. in the Covenant Section 903 lawsuit to compel the legislator to disclose what he saw would be quickly rebuffed in federal court.

The privileged and non-disclosable nature of the information during the pendency of the Covenant Section 903 lawsuit has been recognized by the highest court in the Commonwealth.

Can Tina be trusted to honor and observe the Court's ruling? Or is she so motivated by personal political gain that she will disclose whatever she is shown?

Is Tina trustworthy?

captain said...

If the Budget is so important why did not all of the legislatures show up? Since when during an election year have they ever tried to get a budget together. The years ends this month.
Why are they holding meetings behind closed doors when the budget is supposed to be open to the public?
Why did they all know about the meeting but not not invite Tina to the meeting?
The other noni asks if Tina is trustworthy?
I think that she is probably the only one that is.
I and other that I know would not trust any of the listed ones at the "meeting".
They these are all fence sitters and only for personal gain.
So the question remains, what is being hidden here by the Gov and also now (again) by the legislature.
In regards to Stanley Torres, I seriously doubt if he can read, and also I do not think he could comprehend or know what documents (if any) were related to what. This also goes to many of the uneducated members of the Legislature. It would seem by their past and present actions that they would not have any idea, or could comprehend documents shown to them and what they were related to.
This legislature is like a kindergarten class. Very embarrassing to the NMI. But of course they are to ignorant to understand their action.

Anonymous said...

how fitting that they would have a closed door and private meeting in which to discuss a matter which was part of an open government issue.

got to love this legislature.

i have heard than when the committee met to discuss the federalization delay they also kept the media and public out and locked the doors.

our representatives hard at work... keeping things secret.

Anonymous said...

It's not just “a few representatives.” Every single person in all three branches of government who has seen the engagement letter and billing details agrees that they should not be disclosed while the Covenant Section 903 lawsuit is still pending, including appeal by either side.

The question is not “What are they hiding?” but “Why does one single legislator want to subordinate the interests of the CNMI to the interests of the federal government in that case?” Is she smarter than every other judge, justice, elected leader, and attorney? Should one representatve's obsessive focus trump the collective wisdom of every single person who has seen the Covenant Section 903 material?

This actually reinforces the wisdom of the drafters of the Open Government Act in excuding the legislature.

Are we to be a government of the people, of elected leaders upon whom we trust and rely?

Or does some whacko rogue legislator, such as if Tina Sablan or Goro Cruz were elected to the Senate, get to disregard the will of the other 28 legislators, the judiciary, and the Executive Branch by threatening to disclose what they have unanimously agreed would not be in the interests of the Commonwealth to disclose.

What this OGA amendment would do is transform a solitary legislator into a majority of one. This is not democracy, this is tyranny!

Some people are so focused on “change” that they neglect to inquire or understand why things are done the way they are.

Reinventing the wheel is not a harmless endeavor if the new wheel is oblong.

Whether Tina is motivated by a well-intentioned but blind trust in the ultimate value of change and transparency, or a calculating political self-promotion designed to create a Senate majority of one, is something only she can answer.

But her behavior has demonstrated, in a manner no mere words could do, that the Tina Sablan OGA amendment should be rejected by the people at the ballot box.

No to tyranny, now and forever! (No matter how cute.)

Part 1 said...

Noni 1:14pm: ((GB)

spin on, GB.

you said:"Or does some whacko rogue legislator, such as if Tina Sablan or Goro Cruz were elected to the Senate, get to disregard the will of the other 28 legislators, the judiciary, and the Executive Branch by threatening to disclose what they have unanimously agreed would not be in the interests of the Commonwealth to disclose."

right there, my friend, is the problem with NOT applying the OGA to the legislature. YOU HAVE NO IDEA who supported subpoenaing the documents and who did not. WHY? because it was a secret closed door meeting by a legislative committee. We also have no transcripts taken for future generations to determine why that committee made that descion. NO RECORDS OF THAT MEETING WERE KEPT. NO PUBLIC FILES EXIST. Is this not rouge whacky behavior!!

That is as ROUGE as it comes and your defense of it is even more WHACKY, WHACKO.


you said: "Are we to be a government of the people, of elected leaders upon whom we trust and rely?"

to that i will simply respond with a quote from a public letter issued by Tina Sablan written years before the OGA case against the governor was filed:

"The opening lines to the Open Government Act are striking: “The Legislature finds and declares that all public commissions, boards, councils, committees, subcommittees, departments, divisions, offices, and all other public agencies of this Commonwealth exist to aid in the conduct of the people’s business” (emphasis added).

It gets better. “The people of this Commonwealth do not yield their sovereignty to the
agencies which serve them,” the Open Government Act proclaims. “The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for
the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have
created.” Section 14 of the Open Government Act specifically applied the Open
Government Act to the CNMI Legislature.

Sadly, almost immediately after the Open Government Act was signed into law in 1994,
it was the members of the 9th CNMI Legislature who made the first move to erode it: they
passed another law that exempted the Legislature from the Open Government Act’s
provisions. In a single sentence, Public Law 9-2 repealed Section 14 of the Open
Government Act.

The obvious question that comes to mind immediately is: Why? After acknowledging the basic democratic principles that citizens do not yield their sovereignty to their public servants and that they have the right to be informed about the decisions made by their public officials, why did our lawmakers then disregard those principles and exempt themselves from the same provisions for transparency that they applied to every other agency? And why do our current lawmakers continue to resist growing pressure to fully apply the Open Government Act to themselves?

Put another way, what do our lawmakers have to hide?"

Part 2 said...

you said:"What this OGA amendment would do is transform a solitary legislator into a majority of one. This is not democracy, this is tyranny!"

what exactly do you mean? that one legislature would have the power to get the information needed to properly prepare and analyze budgetary matters? that one legislator would have the capability to properly provide the much needed checks and balances of the administration that had been laid out in the foundation of our government?

let me quote Gregory BAKA's office's MOTION TO WITH HOLD DOCUMENTS brief they filed in APRIL 2009:

" If Ms. Sablan’s committee, or any proper committee of the Legislature, wishes to examine these documents, it is not only their right, but their responsibility, to do so. That this responsibility has not been exercised to date, by any committee of the Legislature, does not provide an excuse to abrogate a statute."
"

Part 3 said...

"Some people are so focused on “change” that they neglect to inquire or understand why things are done the way they are."

In this case it is clearly evident. THEY HAVE SOMETHING TO HIDE thus the way things are being done.

Part 4 said...

""Whether Tina is motivated by a well-intentioned but blind trust in the ultimate value of change and transparency, or a calculating political self-promotion designed to create a Senate majority of one, is something only she can answer."

no. we can answer it too. petty spin and speculation in an attempt to undermine Rep Sablan's credibility will not sit on anones ears for too long. she is not motivated by either of the choices you put forth. read up on her website, give her a ring, or ask people that know her and you will discover that she, unlike Greg Baka, Fitial, self-serving individuals and corrupt officials is MOTIVATED by the desire for as better, more transparent and accountable CNMI!

that scares the bejesus out of you and all others of your ilk.

nice try on the spin but no-a-days you are like a mining drill turning further and further into the deep dark earth.

spin on, GB. SPIN ON!

Part 5 said...

"But her behavior has demonstrated, in a manner no mere words could do, that the Tina Sablan OGA amendment should be rejected by the people at the ballot box."

your rhetoric such as this statment above and your actions and those of the administration and now a few legislators does so much more to enhance the support of the PEOPLE's OGA amendment - an amendment that will correct the self-serving amendment that was made years ago by a similar legislative body that was intent on secrecy.

do not forget, dear GB, the PEOPLE's OGA amendment that will appear on the ballot was signed by more registered voters than your gov fitial got in his bid for office. isn't that an interesting fact? almost two times as many people signed the OGA petition than that voted for fitial. i think , my friend, it is you that are demented and twisted. it is you that are ROGUE and WHACKO.

the voters will do what is right. the OGA will pass, the represenatives that chose to allow the governor to operate as a TYRANT will lose, the people of the CNMI will win, you will have to vacate your susupe office.

Part 6 said...

"No to tyranny, now and forever! (No matter how cute.)"

i totally agree. although i would never elude to GB or fitial as being anywhere near 'cute'.

Anonymous said...

"The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men (Gov Fitial, self-serving politicians, old Acting AG, corrupt officials). Blessed is she (TINA SABLAN) who, in the name of charity and good will, shepherds the weak (us that can not speak out and openly attack the evil people listed above) through the valley of the darkness. For she is truly her brother's keeper and the finder of lost children. And I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord when I lay my vengeance upon you."

Vengeance is a comin'! Nov 7, 2009

Anonymous said...

It is telling that the self-proclaimed transparency advocate and OGA supporter who has been the author of these anti-“GB” screeds going back months hides behind a cloak of anonymity. Actions speak louder than words.

So transparency is the highest virtue? What a total and unmitigated hypocrite.

Get ye to church!

Anonymous said...

when i decide to enter office i will be as transparent as i expect all our government officials to be. at the moment i am a mere blog commenter. you however, GB, are very transparent.

Anonymous said...

btw, Noni 3:24pm, i do not expect anyone in their private and personal capacity to be as transparent as i do the agencies of government that we all have created.

that is not hypocrisy. that is common sense.

hypocrisy would be more in line with an AGO that claims to representing the best interest of the community in public comments made by the Acting AG yet blindly following the commands of a tyrannical governor and stepping all over the rights of the people.

Anonymous said...

Noni 1:14,

Tyranny is advanced by spin and propaganda. There is nothing cute about that.

The most troubling thing about your spin is the stuff you've left out. The only privileged documents requested would be the ones that the court specifically said should be withheld, i.e., detailed invoices and the engagement letter. They are privileged under the Open Government Act, but the legislature can see them. Every single person in all three branches of the government knows (or should know) that. (In fact, the administration said the legislature SHOULD see them.)

The rest of the records requested (that the House committee declined to pursue) are the ones that the administration omitted even after being ordered to turn over all responsive documents to the judge to review, and then omitted and redacted even after being ordered by the judge to release ... all in violation of the Open Government Act.

Shame, shame, shame.

Anonymous said...

1:14

You have a personal hatred for Tina because she included you in the lawsuit. You are out of your mind bat sh*t crazy with hatred and cannot think anymore. Go to a therapist. Your remarks are sick and show intense ignorance.

BIBA TINA!

Anonymous said...

Fitial won't tell us how much of OUR MONEY he's spending on Howard Willens' pipe dream, just like he doesn't want us to know he just had open heart surgery in California. The old man is too sick and feebleminded to be governor.

Anonymous said...

Ben Fitial is a hero, pouring himself out for the sake of his people.

Now, more than ever, we need an experienced hand on the tiller.

Anonymous said...

Heinz in '13.

Biba!

Anonymous said...

10:05

A hero? No way dreamer. His self-interest and deceit have cost the CNMI MILLIONS not to mention the damage to our reputation. He is a schemer, a con artist, a bs-er and as far as infinity from being a hero.

Anonymous said...

Humble, misunderstood, self-sacrificing heroes are the noblest of all.

Biba!

Anonymous said...

I cannot think of any good reason why anyone in the CNMI (with the possible exception of those folks whose employment depends on Ben's get reelected) would vote to keep Ben Fitial in office.

Anonymous said...

"If you can't understand the problem... you just might be part of the problem!"

Anonymous said...

The only incumbent governor reelected in CNMI history was in 1985, during times of relative prosperity.

Now, the people have matured in political sophistication. They're not looking for a hand-out, or for promises, of for miracles.

They are looking for hard work, perseverence, leadership skill, integrity, and general progress in solving problems.

We want change! And the biggest historical change the CNMI can possibly make is to reelect a hard-working incumbent governor for the first time in 24 years, and the first ever during times of trouble.

No more politics as usual!

Biba Ben!

Anonymous said...

HILLARIOUS. I burst out laughing!

You said,"No more politics as usual!" in an attempt to justify the re-election of the usual. LOL

"No more politics as usual" is RIGHT! No more corrupt leaders like Ben Fitial! No more Covenant control! No more!

Anonymous said...

No more would-be senatorial puppet-masters and cowardly, bullying internet attacks!

Anonymous said...

Bye bye Ben

Anonymous said...

Bye bye Glen

captain said...

About 54 days left till judgment day.

Anonymous said...

Bye bye Baka and Co.

Anonymous said...

I miss Ms. D.

Ms. D. said...

Ya un dia bai hu hånåo, bai fåtto ha' ta'lo. Ti sina håo hu dingo, o tano-ho!

Jim(don't call me Kim) Chee said...

That Ms.D. he can talk in code too!
How's DC?

Anonymous said...

There are going to be a whole lot of folks leaving the Commonwealth over the next five years, because of the incompetent political manner in which federalization has been implemented, without so much as an economic study prior to enactment.

The bill and its predecessors had been pending for over a decade!

Total federal vindictiveness and incompetence. Never yield to evil.

Anonymous said...

noni 7:37am:

where have you been living for the last decade?

there have been an enormous amount of folks leaving the commonwealth in that span of time. it had nothing at all to do with the federalizaion of immigration. there have been reports and stories on this mass exodus we have all been witnessing. i have seen lists that span 4 pages of names of people that have departed in just the last 3 years. not transient people either but long term residents.

why did they leave and are they still leaving as we speak? not federal immigration control, my dear.

i'll take a guess.you were on the right track you just referenced the wrong entity. the heart of their leaving was based on the vindictivness and incompetence of our own local government.

vindictive nature of political leaders has lead to a who you know not what you know hiring practice that permeates all levels of government at this time.

incompetence has led to total mismanagement of ALL facets of our local government - health care, power, water, sewer, retirement, environmental concerns, etc.

another reason for the exodus is the unlevel playing field many have witnessed from a business perspective. the QC agreements, the low land lease deals, etc. cuple that with teh fact that we allowed foreign entities to set up shop out here without being true "long term investors". that was local entrepreneurship suicide.

access to guest workers has moved from a viable gap filling model to a replacement model in regards to local resident hiring. we created a two-tier society and we have pushed people to move elsewhere to find work. listen to our own Chamber of Commerce leader Jim A. he testified before US Congress that if granted US citizenship and freedom to travel ALL guest workers will leave the CNMI. think of what he stated. if a worker here in the CNMI CAN LEAVE he WILL. why? so follow that logic. our own local citizens are leaving and have been in droves.

we also have allowed 100% of foreigners to enter the CNMI without proper background checks. they have been using our lands to conduct bad business (drug dealing, human trafficking, money laundering, etc). that has also chased people away that would rather not have to deal with this.

that, my friend, is why there has been an exodus.

will federal immigration correct all the issues affecting the CNMI? i don't think so. it will correct some. no more foreign business permits, no more cheap foreign labor, no more corrupt deals, background checks on foreigners in and entering into the CNMI, etc.

so nice try with the spin and trying to paint a doom gloom picture of the coming years. falls on deaf ears and open eyes.

Anonymous said...

noni 7:37am:

you have already "yeilded to evil" or you are "evil"

Anonymous said...

Ms. D. is quoting a verse from the CNMI anthem, which translates as: "If one day I leave, I will return again. I cannot abandon you, oh my land." The message, I take it, is that we have not heard the last of Ms. D.

Anonymous said...

I think we may have heard the last of Ms. D. I figured we would have to wait for a changing of the Guard in January 2010 but it may come sooner. He was transfered to Susupe and there is a very good chance will be out well before January.

Anonymous said...

As noted above, many people have left, are leaving, and will leave due to the economy, federalization, political patronage, and a myriad of other reasons, as unique as those who make the decision, indigenous, non-indigenous citizen, and foreign national worker alike.

Perhaps that is the deepest significance of Covenant Section 701 and integrating the CNMI economy with that of the mainland. The principal capital of the CNMI is its human capital. Now is a good time for its people to invest in themselves, to gain education and employment experience for up to five or ten years on the mainland or Guam, while the CNMI gradually recovers from the heartbreaking and wholly predictable effects of the poorly implemented federalization.

Anonymous said...

It hasn't been implemented yet. Maybe DHS will do it well, maybe not. One thing for sure, it would have been better if the governor didn't sue the people making the regulations.

Anonymous said...

To the contrary, it is the only way to get a respectful audience with DHS.

Groveling has never, ever worked.

Without Fitial/Inos and Kilili, we would be absolutely ignored.

Biba!

Anonymous said...

Noni 10:04pm,

Nice try but very very inaccurate. Try giving the documents in the Ring Posting a read. You may get edumacated on the ability of Fital, Inos and gang to be HEARD loud and clear in washington without suing. They were masters at pushing their agenda through conniving lobbyists and slimy officials. I guess without that avenue the only resort in their minds is a lawsuit? You think maybe you can tell them there is one other way. It is acitng like an adult and a leader and picking up the phone and talking with them or better yet setting up a meeting and sitting down with DHS officials?

It really isn't that hard. I know that the Governor is used to just paying someone here or scaring someone there in order to get his way but perhaps he can try to adjust. Perhaps he can try dialouge.

Gullick can be called and can even meet with people. Barth was sitting right beside the Gov (although the governor was dosing off most of the time) through the Congressional hearing.

Also, just a side note, the Governor if he so chooses to meet up in person with DHS officials may want to chose another venue besides his usual haunts - Kimchee Cabana and Blue Lagoon. Try his office or perhaps his mansion on the hill.