Secret Guam Port Meeting Recording Turned Over To GM

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Executive board minutes given to Brown for ‘security’ reasons

By Brett Kelman

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Jan. 4, 2013) – The only recording of a controversial, closed-door meeting of Guam’s Port board has been turned over to the agency's new general manager.

Although the board secretary normally keeps these recordings, Port General Manager Joanne Brown said she was given custody of the Dec. 14 tape for "security" reasons.

In response, an attorney for the former general manager, whose authority was revoked at that meeting, said the unusual treatment of the tape invites skepticism.

"It fans the flames of suspicion rather than douses them," said attorney Pat Civille, who represents former General Manager Mary Torres. Torres was removed from the Port among allegations of corruption, but she has called the firing "political."

The Dec. 14 special meeting was called shortly after the governor's office announced that a corruption investigation was under way at the Port. During the meeting, the Port board voted to remove the authority of Torres, who was on vacation at the time. The board then gave that authority to Brown, citing a "leadership void."

After the public portion of the meeting, the Port board gathered in executive session for one hour. Government boards hold executive sessions behind closed doors, but board members are allowed to discuss only personnel and legal matters.

Ten minutes after the executive session was over, the board gave the recording of the discussion to Brown, according to minutes of the meeting, which are available on the Port website.

"At the direction of Mr. John Bell from legal counsel's office at 1:25 p.m., Friday, December 12, 2012, the executive session tape (one cassette) was turned over to the Acting General Manager Joanne Brown," the meeting minutes state.

Brown confirmed Monday that she still had the only copy of the recording. It was given to her so it would be protected from "loss, destruction or tampering," Brown said.

"Under the circumstances -- change in port management and personnel matters -- the board wanted to ensure the security of the tape of the executive session," Brown said.

The recording is currently being transcribed, she said. It includes discussion "relating to the investigation of Port personnel," Brown said.

The corruption investigation led to the termination of Torres and six other port personnel, at least some of whom have challenged their firing at the Civil Service Commission. Torres has said the "politically motivated" terminations were spurred by the governor's office, which sought to remove a "political enemy" from the Port.

On Wednesday, Civille questioned why the Port board would treat this recording differently than any other.

Normally, these tapes would be given to the board secretary, who is tasked with protecting and transcribing the recording. Unlike Brown, the board secretary is a "disinterested person" with no stake in the port controversy, Civille said.

It is likely the tape will be needed later for some type of lawsuit, possibly from his client or one of the other port employees, Civille said.

"It's important that they be preserved and protected from loss or being misplaced," Civille said. "And what does (Brown) have that is more secure than the locked filing cabinet of the board secretary?"

Although an executive session is held behind closed doors, the recording of the discussion becomes a public record after six months, according to local law.

This recording should become public, like normal, Brown said. However, it is possible that ongoing litigation could trigger an exception in the law, keeping the recording sealed for longer, she said.

Travel request

The employee at the center of this controversy is Bernadette Meno, a former spokeswoman for the port. Meno previously worked as a spokeswoman for Gov. Felix Camacho, who is the brother of Torres. Meno is also the employee Torres referred to as a "political enemy" of the governor's office.

Meno is identified in travel request document packets that were flagged by the governor's office, kicking off the corruption investigation. The Pacific Daily News obtained copies of the two travel request packets in December.

The documents state that Meno sustained an on-the-job injury when she slipped and fell in September 2011. The packets ask for funding to send her to Hawaii for back surgery, along with an escorting family member, Audrey Meno Limtiaco.

The government expense for the trip -- airfare, per diem and medical expenses -- would have been about $77,000. The majority of that expense, about $66,000, would have paid for Meno's medical expenses, according to the documents.

The governor's chief of staff, Franklin Arriola, who reviews all travel requests, said he questioned both the purpose and the amount of the travel requests, so he asked his staff to look into the matter. That bounced the requests back to Port leadership, who started an investigation that ultimately led to the terminations, Arriola said.

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