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By Agnes Donato

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Sept. 19) – About 600 public sector employees have been exempted from the austerity holiday law, which cuts government workers' pay by 10 percent.

Acting Gov. Timothy P. Villagomez, in submitting the names of exempted employees to the Legislature, said the list is subject to change.

"The Executive Branch will monitor the duties, responsibilities and performances of the exempted employees. Should any of the.positions be deemed non-critical at a later time, the respective employees will become non-exempt. Likewise, should other positions become critical, a supplemental list shall be forthcoming," Villagomz said.

The list included 369 from the Department of Public Health, 80 from the Department of Corrections, 34 from the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, 17 from the Department of Public Works, and 15 from the Division of Environmental Quality.

Villagomez also approved the exemption of 30 immigration officers, 19 attorneys general, seven communications operators from the Emergency Management Office, five assistant public defenders, and three Managaha rangers.

Villagomez's chief of staff Arnold Seman and his legal counsel, Teresa Kim, homeland security director Patrick Tenorio, and Ray Duenas, maintenance employee at the Office of the Special Assistant for Administration, are also exempted.

Catherine P. Anderson, public information officer, said that the list of exempted employees from the Department of Public Safety was still being prepared.

Patrol and other critical units remained in operation on Sept. 8, the first austerity holiday.

The exemptions were granted at the request of the respective agencies.

Attorney General Matthew T. Gregory said 26 immigration officers assigned to the Saipan airport and seaport and the four officers assigned to the Rota airport fall into the "critical" category because their positions are essential to the inflow of tourists and commerce to the CNMI.

DCCA Secretary Daisy Villagomez-Bier also provided justification for exempting 34 DCCA employees, which include 20 workers at the Kagman Juvenile Detention and Correctional Facility, an emergency shelter coordinator, social workers at the Child Protective Unit and the Juvenile Probation Unit.

"[These] units are a 24/7 operation, which provides secure care for youth whom the juvenile court has determined required temporary custody for their protection or that of the community," Villagomez-Bier said.

Acting Corrections Secretary Ramon Mafnas also said that the exempted correctional officers are on a 24-hour shift schedule, seven days a week operation.

The 17 DPW employees spared from work-hour reduction are part of the Solid Waste Management Division. They are operating the Marpi Landfill and are working six days a week, according to DPW Secretary Jose S. Demapan.

Public defender Elisa Long said that her office was already short-staffed. She also said that most of the attorneys who work at the Public Defender's Office already took a salary reduction when they came to the Commonwealth.

"If they decline to take the 10-percent pay cut, which is likely for many, the Commonwealth will be obligated to repatriate them and their families. This will cost between $13,000 and $16,000 per attorney. I will then have to recruit new attorneys, perhaps from the mainland, to replace them," Long said.

The total amount that the CNMI would save if the Public Defender's Office is not exempted is $37,000, she added.

For DPH, Secretary Joseph Kevin P. Villagomez said that the exempted positions "are direct and indirect health provider positions and are critical in ensuring uninterrupted health and medical services" for CNMI residents.

The exempted DPH staff includes doctors, nurses, therapists, pharmacists, counselors, cooks, and guards.

September 19, 2006

Saipan Tribune

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