Tina Sablan Files Open Government Act Requests

December 7, 2010

Christina Sablan (Tina), who championed disclosure and open government in the CNMI, has filed several Open Government Act requests with a variety of CNMI offices and agencies.

Former Representative Sablan filed an Open Government Act request in October 2008 with the Governor, and later in December 2008 with then Secretary of Finance Eloy Inos requesting information on the funding sources and contracts related to Fitial's anti-federalization lawsuit. Both the Governor and Secretary refused to release the documents. Subsequently, Rep. Sablan filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court in an effort to have the documents released. The documents revealed the billing records and contracts of Jenner and Block, Howard Willens and others. An estimated $500,000 was spent by the cash-strapped CNMI government to sue (and lose) the lawsuit filed by the Fitial Administration in an attempt to maintain local control of immigration and labor. (Files can be accessed here.)

Ms. Sablan filed the following documents on November 29, 2010:

The Open Government Act Requests to the Governor Office, Governor Fitial, Secretary of the Dept. of Lands and Natural Resources, Dr. Ignacio Dela Cruz; Dept. of Commerce, Acting Secretary Sixto K. Igisomar; Dept. of Finance, Acting Secretary Connie Agulto; Dept. of Public Safety, Commissioner Santiago Tudela; Office of the Attorney General, AG Edward Buckingham; Dept. of Public Health, Secretary Joseph Villagomez; Dept. of Public Works, Secretary Martin Sablan; Commonwealth Development Authority, Executive Director Manuel Sablan; Northern Marianas College, Lorraine Cabrera Interim President; Dept. of Public Lands, Secretary Oscar Babauta; Commonwealth Ports Authority, Edward Deleon Guerrero, Executive Director; Dept. of Labor, Secretary Gil San Nicolas; Commonwealth Public Utilities Commission, Chairperson Viola Alepuyo are embedded below:

The letters request documents identifying attorneys and other legal professionals employed by the offices or departments, copies of any contracts, the competitive process used to procure any outside services, any paperwork related to the awarding of sole-sourced contracts; records of billings, invoices or requests for payments; and records of any payments from January 2008 to the present.

A similar OGA request was made to the Marianas Pubic Land Trust, Chairman Philip Long.

Additional OGA requests were filed with the Department of Finance (seeking records of contracts, billings, and payments for legal services of the Legislative Bureau and Legislature), the Commonwealth Utilities Corporation and the Northern Marianas Housing Corporation.

Ms. Sablan said, "Mark Hanson has withdrawn his personal Open Government Act request to CUC, and has asked that any documents being prepared for his request should be redirected to me."

Ms. Sablan reports the following responses to her Open Government Act Requests as of December 7, 2010:
  • The Department of Public Safety, through Acting Commissioner Aniceto Ogumoro, and the Department of Lands and Natural Resources, through Special Assistant Marianne Teregeyo, have responded that no attorneys have been employed or contracted by their respective departments since 2008, and that legal services have been provided by the Attorney General's Office.
  • At least one agency that employs outside counsel, CUC, has referred an Open Government Act request to the Attorney General's Office, out of concern that there might be a conflict if the agency's private, contracted attorneys were to oversee the review, redaction, and disclosure of their own contracts, billing statements, and payment records.
  • Other agencies have opted to engage their outside counsels in handling these Open Government Act requests. These agencies include at least one executive branch department (the Department of Public Lands), and several autonomous agencies (the Commonwealth Development Authority, the Northern Marianas Housing Corporation, the Northern Marianas College, and the Commonwealth Public Utilities Commission). I am frankly quite concerned about any additional costs being incurred by having outside counsels handle these Open Government Act requests. I am also concerned about the propriety of private attorneys deciding on their own which parts of their contracts, billing statements, and payment records to redact, and which parts should be made public. I await these agencies' responses before commenting further.
  •  The Marianas Public Lands Trust, through its Office Manager Bobbie Reyes, has indicated that the responsive documents are being prepared and that I should be contacted not later than December 10.
  • The following agencies have requested an extension of time to release the requested records: the Department of Labor and the Department of Public Lands. The Northern Marianas College, the Commonwealth Development Authority, and the Northern Marianas Housing Corporation have indicated through their outside counsels that they are now preparing the requested documents, but may need additional time.
  • Some agencies have indicated their intent to redact parts of the requested documents, and will be preparing statements citing and justifying the exemptions they will be claiming under Section 9918 of the Open Government Act. I have requested that these agencies submit that statement by the ten-day deadline, even if they will be requiring additional time to disclose the requested documents.
  • Several agencies have not formally acknowledged or responded at all to the requests yet. These are: the Office of the Governor, the Department of Finance, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Public Health, the Department of Public Works, and the Commonwealth Ports Authority.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

“An estimated $5 million was spent by the cash-strapped CNMI government to sue (and lose) the lawsuit filed by the Fitial Administration in an attempt to maintain local control of immigration and labor.”

Wendy, where on earth are you getting this five million dollar estimate from?

Every document you and others have posted or revealed barely clears a one million dollar expenditure, if that.

Given the tremendous human suffering, economic calamity, and outmigration of indigenous and foreign national workers alike, the chance to prevent these consequences of the politically vindictive federal action by George Miller, Allen P. Staymen, and David Barrett Cohen was well worth the money spent.

This amount was far, far less than the lobbying and legal efforts of Froilan C. Tenorio, Pedro A. Tenorio, and Juan N. Babauta to forestall or alleviate federalization.

You get what you pay for.

At least now we have the best possible Delegate to Congress to help the feds reconsider the results of their poorly conceived and executed CNRA law -- without even the most elementary economic study -- which in fundamental fairness should not have been considered by Congress until after we had a seat and voice at the table in the person of our Delegate.

The poor, misguided Unity Marchers now reap what they sowed.

Wendy Doromal said...

Anonymous 7:19

You are right! I mistakenly added a zero. Thanks for the correction. (Of course, we still do not know how much was spent on Jenner and Block.) Maybe Tina's OGA will reveal the real tab.

The rest of what you said is total propaganda and even comical.

Anonymous said...

Noni 7:17am,

How are you so sure it isn't $5 million?

Have you seen the final billings?

Are we still paying them $50,000+/month?

If so what would the total be now 3 years later? $2 million + addtional costs?

If not, when did we stop?


This administration is still being secretive with this contract and ALL other contracts.

Now watch the roaches scurry as Tina and others shine their lights into their caves!

You can try and justify the hiring of legal professionals all you want noni. That doesn't do anything to address the fact that TAXPAYERS should know how and where their hard earned dollars are being spent.

How can you be content in that blind state? Perhaps you are not blind. Perhaps you know these figures? Perhaps you signed off on them :)

Good day, mate.

Anonymous said...

The CNMI should emulate other jurisdictions and publish all its contracts online, as well as requests for proposals and invitations to bid. Proposed legislation or initiative, anyone?

“I am frankly quite concerned about any additional costs being incurred by having outside counsels (sic) handle these Open Government Act requests.”

That is one of the problems with the OGA. It is extraordinarily wasteful of government resources, whether it is outside hired counsel or in-house assistant attorneys general. Not to mention all the government employees who spend excessive time responding to these queries rather than productively serving the people.

If requesters had to pay for the staff time, there would be fewer frivolous requests, which are generally used as a sort of pre-litigation discovery by savvy lawyers such as Mark B. Hanson (who drafted all the letters).

Anonymous said...

Deanne (Anonymous 7:19 AM)-

We do get what we pay for. You apparently don't get paid nuthin' to work on CNMI issues and the CNMI has gotten nuthin' in return.

Anonymous said...

non 3:49pm:

you said: "That is one of the problems with the OGA. It is extraordinarily wasteful of government resources, whether it is outside hired counsel or in-house assistant attorneys general. Not to mention all the government employees who spend excessive time responding to these queries rather than productively serving the people."

Really?

That is the problem with the OGA?

Take your head out of your arse. The problem is not with the OGA. The problem is with a corrupt and secretive government that wants to operate in the dark and funnel large contracts and tax payer dollars to buddies and pals without open and transparent proceedings.


The problem, old chap, is that when someone like Tina steps up to the plate and asks to see these public records, the government officials act like scared criminals and attempt to cover-up their nefarious acts rather than following the law and granting rights to inspection. This would cost the taxpayers nothing - that is if these offices are keeping good records as they should be.

I will quote Tina:

"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”.

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.”



It is pretty clear, ain't it noni? No need for outside legal counsel to get involved. Is there?

A simple request to see the contracts of all lawyers hired by all the departments of OUR government on OUR dime. Contracts that may have been entered into without proper procurement regs being followed and for what many may see as duplications of services that the now fully staffed AGO should handle.

What are they so afraid to reveal that they are now hiring outside counsel to hide the contracts of the previously hired outside counsels?

Anonymous said...

The CNMI should emulate other jurisdictions and publish all its contracts online, as well as requests for proposals and invitations to bid. Proposed legislation or initiative, anyone?

If people would spend even one-tenth of their effort and energy working toward long-term solutions to long-standing problems instead of spinning their wheels with bombast, publicity, wasted trees, ultimatums, and frivolous litigation, we would all be a lot better off.

But that doesn't seem to be the CNMI way, does it?

The more things “change”, the more they stay the same. Same old, same old.

We need sustainable structural change. Not court matters that will enrich lawyers filing Open Government Act cases, Class Actions, or Taxpayer Lawsuits, while impoverishing the people of the Commonwealth even more.

Wendy Doromal said...

Anonymous 7:43

This comment confuses me. Why not concentrate on ending corruption and backdoors deals, bringing everything out into the light, promoting transparency, and publishing of contracts and related documents so that people don't have to file OGA requests to see how their tax dollars are being spent?

Anonymous said...

Noni 7:43am,

I hope you are not an attorney. You said, "We need sustainable structural change. Not court matters that will enrich lawyers filing Open Government Act case".

A citizen requesting documents under the OGA is not a court case. That is a REQUEST that is allowable under current law, without any case needing be filed.

Direct your anger towards litigation at the agencies that deny these LEGAL requests, not the requesters.

No lawyers are need to produce contracts, billing statements, procurement procedures, and payment documents.

If we used your logic we should just remove ALL laws from the books so that we could kill all chances of litigation.

The Saipan Blogger said...

I would start by implementing the recommendations of the audit of DPS and DCCA.

Anonymous said...

Deanne and Howard,

Please report back to your nursing home dormitories. We've had enough of your dementia-fueled trolling on this blog.

Anonymous said...

They can't affect the stipulations of the audit, as it would see the removal of a large number of incompetant "supporters".