NMI Impeachment Committee Adopts Meeting Rules

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2 House leadership members ‘snub’ initial discussions

By Haidee V. Eugenio

SAIPAN, CNMI (Saipan Tribune, Sept. 14, 2012) – Two lawmakers aligned with Gov. Benigno R. Fitial snubbed yesterday's first meeting of a special committee reviewing a milestone resolution to impeach the governor, while those present clashed over a request to allow Fitial to be heard on every charge of felony, corruption, and neglect of duty before panel members vote to impeach him.

Despite the no-shows and the clashes, six of the eight members present adopted the special committee rules on applicability, voting, confidentiality of proceedings, meetings, and interpretation.

Reps. Joe Palacios (R-Saipan) and Stanley Torres (Ind-Saipan), who earlier said they will vote "no" to the impeachment resolution, did not show up at the meeting.

Special Committee on Impeachment chair and House minority bloc leader Joe Deleon Guerrero (R-Saipan) said he wasn't notified in writing or verbally that Palacios was going to Guam, while he was told that Torres was on his way but didn't show up more than two hours since the meeting started at 2:16pm.

Deleon Guerrero said that ample time was given to members to clear their schedules so they could attend the first meeting.

This is the first time in CNMI history that an impeachment resolution has been formally introduced and assigned to a special committee for review and recommendation to the full House.

Opportunity

Vice speaker Felicidad Ogumoro (Cov-Saipan), meanwhile, insisted that the governor should be given an opportunity to answer each of the allegations in the impeachment resolution so she could make a decision that is "fair, impartial, and educated."

Ogumoro specifically asked the committee chair to write Fitial a letter asking him to explain his answer to each of the 16 articles of impeachment.

Deleon Guerrero said they will be going beyond their authority to do this.

"I refuse to go beyond what authority is given to me. I apologize but I don't have authority to do that," he told Ogumoro during yesterday's meeting.

Rep. Tony Sablan (R-Saipan) reminded Ogumoro that the House's task is to initiate impeachment proceedings and the Senate will be the one to decide whether to convict the governor or not, so it's at the Senate where the governor could and should defend himself and not at the House.

Ogumoro reiterated that she cannot decide on the impeachment resolution until she hears from the one being impeached. She said her goal is not to decide whether to convict the governor or not.

House legal counsels John Cool, Joe Taijeron, Deleon Guerrero, and Ogumoro argued back and forth on the matter.

Deleon Guerrero said if Ogumoro brings up the matter again despite the opinions of the legal counsels and the constitutional and statutory guidelines and regulations at hand, he would have to repeat what these laws and rule state or if Ogumoro makes a formal motion, then the members would act on that motion.

House Speaker Eli Cabrera (R-Saipan) appointed eight members to the committee-four from the minority bloc who are among the co-authors of the impeachment resolution, and four from the House leadership that is aligned with the governor.

The minority bloc members of the special committee were all present yesterday: Joe Deleon Guerrero, Sablan, Rep. Ray Tebuteb (R-Saipan), and Rep. Frank Dela Cruz (R-Saipan).

Of the four from the leadership, only Ogumoro and Rep. Fred Deleon Guerrero (Ind-Saipan) showed up.

The House legal counsels and chair also went over the constitutional provisions on impeachment, and the relevant CNMI laws and legislatives rules or authorities.

Rules of procedure

The special committee rules were adopted by a vote of 6-0.

Among others, the rules state that special committee meetings will be open to the public, except for portions of the meeting that may be held in executive session.

On voting, the special committee rules say "committee action shall be taken by a vote of the majority of the committee members present and voting."

"In the event of a tie vote, the matter will be considered neither adopted nor rejected, and will be reported to the full House for action," it states.

'Farce'

The members present voted to amend the agenda to include a public comment period, the chairman's letter to the governor, and the leadership members' letter to the chairman.

Frederick Prosser, the only one who stood up during the public comment period, called on the impeachment committee members, especially those aligned with the governor, to "do the right thing." He also said he considers the idea of the committee a "farce."

"The people aren't that stupid anymore. They're going to nail you to the cross. Be realistic, okay? For once, do what is right for the people, the people who elected you, they pay your salaries, you're supposed to represent them, you're not supposed to represent yourself, your personal ideas." he said.

Prosser said each member is capable of reading the charges against the governor.

"Your job is not to hold the trial. Your job is to decide whether to vote yes or no to impeachment. You don't need [12] meetings to make that decision; all you have to do is read the charges. Why drag this thing out? Why make a farce out of it? .We all know who's aligned with who here. The question the majority bloc has to ask themselves is very simple. Who's paying your wages? The governor or the taxpayers? If the governor is paying you more than the taxpayers are, by all means vote for him. If he's not, then use some common sense. Read the charges. They're substantial and they're substantiated," he said.

On the issue of the 25-year, $190.8-million power purchase agreement, Prosser said it's a "dirty contract, plain and simple."

He said Fitial signed the agreement without knowing the type of engine and the specific amount per kilowatt hour that CUC and customers will be charged, among other things.

Instead of tying the CNMI to a diesel power engine for 25 years, Prosser said more efforts should be done to move toward tapping renewable energy sources.

Resolution

House Resolution 17-111 lists 16 articles of impeachment for felony, corruption, and neglect of duty.

Besides the no-bid 25-year power purchase agreement, the issues involved include temporary release of a federal inmate to give the governor a massage in January 2010, the use of armed police and ports police officers to escort and allegedly shield an attorney general from being served a penal summons for criminal charges, and the award of an almost $400,000 ARRA management contract to a person who just resigned as Commerce secretary.

At least 14 "yes" votes are needed in the 20-member House to impeach the governor; at least six "yes" votes in the nine-member Senate are needed to convict him.

So far, only eight House members have gone on the record to say they will vote "yes" to the resolution, seven of them co-authors of the impeachment resolution.

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