EMBATTLED MARIANAS COLLEGE PRESIDENT SUSPENDED

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No plans to replace Fernandez as investigation continues

By Moneth Deposa SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Jan. 13, 2010) – In the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), the Northern Marianas College (NMC) Board of Regents suspended college president Dr. Carmen Fernandez during yesterday's special board meeting amid two separate investigations against the official on issues that were described as "very sensitive" in nature.

The suspension was effective immediately and will last until the results of the two investigations are disclosed to the board.

Board chair Janet Han King told Saipan Tribune that both the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) and a fact-finding committee formed by the board are separately investigating Fernandez.

Saipan Tribune learned that the OAG's probe is related to issues about the grades of students while the board's investigation focuses on personnel matters and other "issues." The board did not elaborate.

Lorraine Cabrera, the college's Adult Basic Education director who has been with the institution for 15 years, was named as the interim NMC president.

Yesterday's meeting had only one agenda: personnel matter. It was supposed to start at 10am but was delayed for an hour.

Regent Charles Cepeda was unable to attend, reportedly due to a scheduling conflict. Rota regent Elaine Hocog-Orilla participated via video teleconference (VTC).

Orilla, the chair of the board's personnel committee, had asked the board to defer the special meeting to Jan. 15 but she was overruled by other members, despite the support of Regent Malua Peter.

Orilla told the board that her physical absence was due to the preparations being made for her brother's inauguration on Rota and that she wants to fully participate in the meeting's discussion. The request was defeated by a 4-2 vote.

To give Orilla the chance to join the discussion, Regent Andrew Orsini proposed suspending the board's policy that bars absent members from participating in executive sessions through VTC. However, board legal counsel Jesse Borja advised that suspension of the policy would require advance notification of the meeting.

The board then voted to go into executive session at 11:15am, and initially advised attendees that the meeting may take an hour to finish. It took more than three hours.

Last Monday, the board was threatened with an email message that said pushing through with the special meeting would result in the bombing of an NMC classroom before the Chinese New Year. This prompted police to search the campus.

Yesterday morning, about 15 policemen were sent to NMC, with three assigned to stand guard at the board conference room where the special meeting was held.

After more than three hours of deliberation, the board finally came out at 2:15pm.

Two concurrent motions were immediately made on the floor by Malua Peter and Janet King: a motion to recess the meeting and a motion to suspend Fernandez.

The suspension proposal was adopted by a 4-2 vote.

Orilla, still in VTC, pointed out that she voted "no" to the motion as she was not aware of the "reasons behind the decision."

Members who voted for Fernandez's suspension included King, vice chair Maria Paz Younis, Andrew Orsini, and Frank Rabauliman.

After the meeting, King said the board has no plans at this time to replace Fernandez. "No, there is no contemplation by the board right now of removing the president," she said.

Fernandez's counsel, Brian Sers San Nicholas, is now working on the legal details of the board's decision.

"We urge the AG office to conduct its investigation as quickly as possible. I don't know how long it would take but we expect maybe results in more than 30 days, but it still up to the AG," King said.

When asked about the atmosphere during the three-hour executive session, King described it as "very lively."

"I think that we expressed all our opinions and finally we made a decision. Our decisions are not always easy but we need to make it," she said, adding that there was a lot of debate during the closed-door discussion.

Depending on the results of the probe, King said the board will then make the decision on the president's future. She asked the cooperation of all employees and students in the ongoing investigations.

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