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Regent Janet King elected amid controversy

By Moneth Deposa SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Dec. 31, 2009) – In the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) Regent Janet King was elected as the new chairperson of the Northern Marianas College Board of Regents during a tense board meeting yesterday that saw the presence of over 50 persons watching the proceedings.

King, a practicing lawyer based on Tinian, gave up her practice-at least until the expiration of her term with the Northern Marianas College (NMC) board-so she could assume the chairmanship.

King defeated former board chair Charles V. Cepeda on a 4-3 vote by the seven-member body. Regents Maria Paz Younis, Andrew Orsini, and Frank Rabauliman sided with King while Maria Malua Peter and Elaine Hocog Orilla voted for Cepeda.

The voting was supposed to start at 3:40pm but the board waited for Cepeda, who was being confirmed by the Senate yesterday afternoon. Minutes after being confirmed, Cepeda drove from Capital Hill to As Terlaje for the board meeting.

Prior to the voting, the college legal counsel, Jesse Borja, cited a law that disallows practicing lawyers from become chairpersons of commissions or boards.

This was countered by regent Maria Paz Younis, who asked: "Why was it OK in the past? And now it's not?"

She cited other practicing lawyers who have been appointed and had served in various commissions and boards, with no conflict being raised in their appointments.

Borja said that King has the right to challenge, if she wants to, the constitutionality of the law but hinted that the procedure would take a while.

NMC president Dr. Carmen Fernandez tried to speak before the voting but she wanted to do this in an executive session, which is closed to the public. The board rejected having an executive session before the voting.

Fernandez said she has "concerns" about the candidates' nomination and wanted to explain her piece to the board alone.

Regent Orsini made the motion to vote if the board will agree to the executive session. The request was defeated by a 4-3 vote.

Fernandez chose not to raise her "concerns" in the open discussion.

She was visibly upset when King was chosen as the new board chair.

Prior to voting, Regent Elaine Orilla said she won't vote for King because of the statute that bars a practicing lawyer from sitting as chairpersons of commissions or boards.

"I am sorry Janet. I will not personally vote for you because I know what the law is," she said.

According to Malua Peter, the board is not trying to disqualify King from the position but is simply complying with the mandates of the law.

After a few exchanges of legal opinions, King decided to give up her legal practice until the expiration of her term in April 2010.

"With the commitment I have with NMC I want to pursue my role as NMC regent. I am personally giving up my practice to serve for the best interest of the college," she told the board.

Prior to the voting, Cepeda asked King about her intentions and the direction she wants the NMC board to pursue.

"It is to fulfill the mission of NMC and to ensure that the president properly administers the college," she responded.

After the voting for the chairmanship, Paz Younis was nominated to the vice chairmanship. She was supposed to run against Maria Malua Peter, but Peter declined the nomination. Cepeda also declined the treasurer position, which went to Frank Rabauliman.

Younis and Rabauliman were officially named to the positions.

King immediately called the meeting to order and proceeded to public comments where four individuals spoke up-all with similar concerns.

Martin Manglona expressed concern about existing issues at the college, including the no-confidence vote of the faculty against Fernandez, the hiring and management practices at the college, and the negative publicity about Fernandez's leadership style.

"I urge this full board to dig down and take a look at the issues. I have nothing against Dr. Fernandez but I call on this board to investigate. I know politics is not involved here," he said.

Commonwealth Retirees Association chair Juan Sablan said the issues surrounding NMC must be prioritized. He specifically asked the board to look into the background of its president to ensure that the college will be stable in her hands.

John Oliver Gonzales complained about the newly hired library director at the college and blamed the NMC president for "hiring" such a person for the position.

Former regent Agnes McPhetres, the last speaker during the public comment period, called on the board to the right thing for NMC.

She congratulated the board's new leadership and said she looks forward to seeing it work to set the college in the right direction.

McPhetres is the first president of NMC.

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