CNMI LAND COMMISSIONER HOFSCHNEIDER SUSPENDED

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SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, July 13) - Commissioner Henry Hofschneider of the Marianas Public Lands Authority has been suspended for 15 days, beginning July 9, for alleged insubordination.

The suspension order was issued by MPLA Chairman Ana Demapan-Castro, who cited a July 30 memorandum as basis for her authority to issue the suspension order.

She asked Hofschneider to refer all pending matters that he is involved in to the Deputy Commissioner and asked him to surrender all office keys and any MPLA property he may have.

The suspension was immediately opposed by MPLA board member Nicolas Nekai and board vice chairman Manuel P. Villagomez, who both issued separate memoranda questioning Demapan-Castro's authority to issue the suspension and whether the reasons cited for the suspension warranted such action.

The Saipan Tribune tried to obtain comments from Hofschneider but he was not listed on the local directory. The Tribune also tried to obtain comments from Demapan-Castro and Nekai but both declined.

According to documents obtained by the Saipan Tribune, Demapan-Castro informed Hofschneider in a memorandum dated July 9 that his employment with the agency is being suspended and that he is being placed on administrative leave, with pay, for 15 days, or until July 29, 2004.

Hofschneider's alleged insubordination arose when he allowed the Commonwealth Development Authority (CDA) to alter document requisition No. FY04-03 without the board's approval and written consent.

The document related to the transfer of MPLA funds at the Bank of Guam to pay for land compensation claims.

Hofschneider allegedly allowed the CDA to alter the amount of funds being transferred from $216, 322 to $134, 695.91 without specific information as to whom the revised drawdown amount is intended to compensate.

In the schedule of requisition request prepared by Hofschneider and MPLA comptroller David Demapan, the amount $216,322 is altered with a strikethrough and above it is typed $134,695.91. The documents showed that CDA executive director Maria Lourdes S. Ada altered the amount listed on the requisition.

"Any alteration without the board's approval is grounds for disciplinary action," Demapan-Castro said.

She also informed Hofschneider that she would ask the Attorney General's Office to further investigate the matter.

At the same time, Demapan-Castro cited Hofschneider's "abrupt departure" from an MPLA meeting last July 2 and his failure to return.

"While issues were being discussed, you got up from your chair, slammed the door, and left the room. I tried to speak to you, but you refused to listen," she said in the memo.

Demapan-Castro based her authority on a July 30 memo where the MPLA board members granted her full authority to terminate for cause, if necessary, any employee of the MPLA who, in the discretion of the chairperson, is not efficiently performing his or her duties, or otherwise not complying with MPLA's rules and regulations. That memo was signed by Villagomez, Pedro JL Igitol and Pedro M. Atalig.

Villagomez, however, insisted in a July 9 memo to Demapan-Castro that he does not concur with her decision, saying she does not have the authority to alone do what the full board of MPLA is required to do.

"You should have been more deliberate and sensible in your action, and I believe you failed to act in good judgment. You must rescind your memorandum at once," he urged.

He insisted that the requisition's alteration was not an issue, saying that, since requisitions for funds draw down are always prepared administratively at the instruction of Hofschneider, he has authority to do what he did.

"The facts indicate that he and the CDA executive director spoke and agreed on the proposed change to Requisition No. FY04-03 before it was done. I do not believe the decision of the commissioner and CDA executive director was wrong," Villagomez said.

As for Hofschneider's leaving the meeting, Villagomez said the meeting was not even an MPLA meeting but one with the land compensation working group. He said Hofschneider had asked his permission to be excused from the upcoming board meeting as he had a headache. This was concurred in by board member Nekai, who said Hofschneider had also asked his permission to leave before the board meeting.

Nekai also stated, "The adjustment of Requisition No. FY04-03 was not illegal. The amount was adjusted to account for the funds that had not been expended by the MPLA. The disbursement to the land claimants was in order and no funds were mismanaged or mishandled."

July 13, 2004

Saipan Tribune: www.saipantribune.com

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