Wednesday, July 4, 2007

My Opinion On Others' Opinions On The Open Government Act

Click here for the Marianas Variety Article which reports on a Senate version of the Open Government Act bill that was introduced by Senator Luis Crisostimo.

If I were to write the papers everytime they misreport or slant a story, I'd never get anything done. But enough of these slants have been cropping up since I lost favor with my friend Zaldy and the Variety folks over my introduction of HB 15-38, commonly known as the "Comprehensive Labor Reform Bill" that I find it necessary to make time now and then for a posting such as this. I'd send this to them, but they've stopped printing anything I send them (or was it just anything that had to do with educating the public on HB 15-38, I wonder?).

Now, let me take a page out of Bill O'Reily's "No Spin Zone" and tell the uncomplicated truth about my introduction of HB 15-269, the bill that sought to apply the Open Government Act to the Legislature. It may sadden some people to know that there was no conspiracy to deprive the tax payers of information they are rightfully entitled to, but even the Open Government Act as it applies to the agencies now (the version that Tina Sablan and her supporters, including the Variety, hold up as the ideal version that ought to be applied to the Legislature) has its limitations. Certain confidential information must be kept confidential. That's the bottom line. I ran into this limitation when I invoked the Open Government Act to request certain information from the now-defunct Marianas Public Lands Authority (MPLA), and was not allowed access to certain information that they considered "confidential."

When Tina Sablan wrote the lawmakers and asked us to disclose our financial records, I was one of the first lawmakers to promptly reply. Not only did I provide Ms. Sablan with my 2006 and 2007 financial information on how my Office spent the taxpayers' money, but I took it a step further. I published it on this blog and invited the world to review it. I even invited my constituents to make an appointment with my office to go over the information on a face-to-face basis. I later read in the papers that Ms. Sablan was not satisfied with the amount of information that most lawmakers provided her, although she admitted earlier that she failed to provide any standard list of information on how she wanted the expenditures to be reported to her.

In any event, most of you who read this blog might remember that I also said that I would introduce legislation to apply the Open Government Act to the Legislature or to co-sponsor a bill if one were to be introduced before I introduced my bill. I asked House Legal Counsel Antonette Villagomez to draft the legislation for me to introduce. As we met in a typical "Leadership Meeting" before the morning's House session, the legal counsel came by to speak with me. As we stepped out of the conference room, she posed this question to me:

"Are you sure that you want a blanket application of the Open Government Act to the Legislature? I'm asking you about this because the lawmakers are frequently asked in confidence to look into matters that may involve possible misconduct in public office and you wouldn't want the names of people making such requests to be discoverable just by anybody invoking the Open Government Act." I thought about this for a couple minutes and as we discussed it, I recalled my experience with obtaining information from MPLA and the limitations that that request was imposed upon me. So I made a decision. I decided to mandate the FULL disclosure of financial records of each office, but that there was a need to put a limit on the other information, such as correspondence that have nothing to do with our office's expenditures, so as to protect the anonymity of people who come to lawmakers to look into things. I must admit, I get my fair share of those, especially since I chair the Judiciary and Governmental Operations Committee, which has jurisdiction over the entire CNMI Government.

When the session began and I introduced the bill, Rep. Joseph Guerrero requested that I invite all the lawmakers to co-sponsor the bill, which was fine with me. I asked that the bill be calendared for first and final reading. When the bill came up for deliberation on the floor, Rep. Ray Yumul motioned that we go into "Executive Session" to discuss the bill, which we did. Now, during the Executive Session deliberation, the only change to the bill really was to clarify that only the individual lawmaker is authorized to release his/her financial information from his/her office, not the Speaker and not the President. Mind you, the same information can still be obtained from the Secretary of Finance's Office, as has been done by the papers in the past. I wondered to myself why it was even necessary to "dramatize this" by going into Executive Session to make this one change, but that's what was done.

When we resumed the regular House session, I introduced the amendment and the bill swiftly passed unamously. Lo and behold, the headlines came out. In one Variety article, the reporter interviewed Tina Sablan's father, Eugene Sablan, and they took the bill and completely reported the opposite of what it was really about. They turned around and said that HB 15-269 was "quickly and quietly passed" and that we wanted everything to be disclosed BUT our financial records. Boy! Who read that bill? Or, more accurately, which bill were they reporting on, because it certainly wasn't the bill I introduced!

Since then, Tina Sablan has come out with a lenghty editorial pontificating on HB 15-269 and what a meaningless bill this is. The Variety and others have let their imaginations work overtime also. Meanwhile, the public is being led astray by what they read in the papers and see on the 6 o'clock news.

Here's the bottom line. There was never any plot to make this Open Government Act about depriving the taxpayers from knowing how their taxpayer dollars are being spent. And, the last I looked, lawmakers are taxpayers, too. My reason or reasons for heeding the legal counsel's advice is nothing more than taking what I believe to be prudent legal advice. The fact that my colleagues chose to clarify that each lawmaker him/herself should provide his/her own respective financial information, as is the CURRENT practice now, is no big deal. Honestly! This is something that is being made into a bigger deal than it deserves to be. Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill!

When I first assumed office in January 2006, I told my staff that our role as first-timers on the Hill is to do our best to serve the public by elevating the standard of service to the communities. I also often said to my staff that I wanted us to be the kind of office where the Public Auditor's Office can just walk through our doors any time of the day and ask to look in our files and we would gladly give them access without hesitation. That promise still holds true today.

16 comments:

Jeffrey C. Turbitt said...

Good job explaining this Cinta. You should do the same here with the labor bill, unless you already have online and I've missed it. Be well.

BoReGo said...

Cinta, why is there so much hollabaloo about it? If I come in and ask for information and invoke the OGA, won't I get what I need? I'm a little confused? Also, what about the people who come in to talk with legislators and share extremely confidential concerns/information? Will the OGA require you to share what they've come to you in confidence with? There really needs to be more clarification, at least for confused folks like me who don't understand why such a big deal is made. Aren't there so many other battles we should be focusing on because there is already a mechanism in place for getting information? I hope I didn't confuse you with my own lack of understanding on it.

CNMI Blogger said...

Jeff,
Good to *see your voice* from all the way in Jersey! Thank you. I will endeavor to also explain the Labor Bill in future multiple posts, if you and my other two readers can stomach it.

Borego,
That's just it. It's much ado about nothin'! Most people are concerned about how their taxpayer dollars are being spent, which is why I introduced my bill removing the exemption of the application of the Open Govt Act to the Legislature and mandating that financial records be fully disclosed upon invocation of the Open Government Act request.

What my bill sought to protect -- and which Tina and her group made such a big deal out of--is precisely this part that you talked about:

"Also, what about the people who come in to talk with legislators and share extremely confidential concerns/information? Will the OGA require you to share what they've come to you in confidence with?"

As I explained, constituents confide all sorts of personal and confidential information to us lawmakers that's really no one's business. Tina's father said to Rep. Quitugua that they feel that they are entitled to ALL the information in our files, including those personal and confidential information, not just those pertaining to our financial records. I respectfully disagree.

The Constitution mandates that each lawmaker be responsible for handling the $155,000 budgeted for each office. (The Speaker and Senate President get a heck of a lot money. The Committee chairs get a little bit more, but everyone gets a base amount.)

This is another reason why the clarification that Rep. Yumul made to my HB 15-269 bill in the Executive Session was not harmful, although Tina and her group put their spin on it and said the opposite. The Variety has consistently fanned the flames and made issue of this fact. They ignore the fact that when Tina and her group wrote to each lawmaker and asked us to disclose our financial information, it is still up to EACH of us lawmakers to VOLUNTARILY disclose our own financial information!

My bill doesn't say that the information would not be disclosed; it merely puts clarifies that each lawmaker, rather than the Speaker or Senate President, ought to be responsible for disclosing his or her own office's financial information. After all, this would be consistent with the mandate given to the lawmakers that each lawmaker be responsible for his or her office's budget -- not the Speaker and not the Senate President. So, short of obtaining information from each lawmaker, the taxpayers and newspapers could also obtain this information from the Secretary of Finance.

Incidentally, on the issue of the lawmakers' budget, I must say, though, that that $155,000 figure is another thing of the past. I've NEVER seen that budget since I assumed office. In fact, our budgets have consistently been cut. I've already posted my financial records, so there's no need to get into all this again.

But back to your question, there's enough hollabaloo made about the Open Govt Act that essentially made a mountain out of a molehill, and, though I don't want to waste time I could be using on more constructive things, the distortions and confusions generated in the public forces me to have to stop and set the record straight periodically. I find that to be more critical now that one newspaper absolutely refuses to print what I send them and the other prints them at a much later date than they used to.

I hope this adds to your understanding of this, Borego, rather than contribute to your confusion further.

Jeffrey C. Turbitt said...

Get Angelo to post some of his topless pics, then everyone will see it here.

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

TOPLESS PICS

CNMI Blogger said...

Angelo and Jeff --
LOL! You two are nuts! LOL!

G said...

This response is for anyone that stumbles across this post. I must say that I am not totally surprised by Cinta’s statements, but I am greatly concerned about the responses from various educators -- people who I would hope would have the wherewithal to do a bit of fact checking, research and personal critical thinking before blindly embracing this post and publicly supporting it.

I am so tired of politicians trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes. What a travesty it is that a lawmaker would actually attempt to make us believe that it is no big deal that the legislature is exempt from the Open Government Act.

Forever the politician, isn’t she? While running for office Cinta created a website for her campaign. Here is a link and a quote from her that is listed on that site (http://www.cintakaipat.com/issues.html):

"I am for an open government in which every public official is directly accountable for his or her actions. I believe corruption and favoritism in government can only be stopped if we, as voters, INSIST upon it. We have the legal grounds to do so through the Open Government Act. We need to use this important law to monitor our government's actions, and we need to come down hard on those who fail to live up to their responsibilities and betray the public trust by abusing their position for personal gain."

How sad it is that now that citizens are attempting to right the wrong caused by the 9th legislature (exempting themselves from the OGA), Cinta is making every attempt to stop them and hinder their progress. What happened to one of the top convictions she so strongly held prior to being elected?

She mentions taking a page from Bill O’Reilly’s No Spin Zone. It is a fitting analogy, because any sensible person would understand that in essence that is what Bill O’Reilly does so well, SPIN. This latest blog entry is littered with spin. Eugenio Sablan never said that Cinta’s bill wanted everything BUT their financial records disclosed. Where on earth did she get that and why would she post it other than to muddle the water? Eugenio Sablan approached her directly and asked her and the rest of the legislature, “How do you feel about applying the Open Government Act to the Legislature?” And she responded on record, “Yes, I believe it should apply”.

What Mr. Sablan and other concerned citizens are attempting to do is apply the Open Government Act in its entirety to the Legislature, as it used to. The proper comment he made was that the Open Government Act deals with so much more than JUST the financial information (which is all that Cinta’s bill addresses): it requires notice for public meetings, sets guidelines for agencies that wish to go into executive or emergency sessions, provides safeguards for protecting the confidentiality of certain records including information disclosing the identity of whistleblowers, as well as much more. After reading Cinta’s bill (we received a copy after it had already passed unanimously in the House later that day from one of her colleagues), we realized that the bill only focused on the financial records of lawmakers and actually might have made it more difficult for citizens to gain access to them because it specifically limited authorization for disclosures to the lawmakers themselves.

Cinta claims that she asked House Legal Counsel Antoinette Villagomez to draft this bill for her and that Antoinette was the one who questioned full application of the Open Government Act to the Legislature. I am first concerned that the Legal Consel for the House is not aware that the Open Government Act already has provisions to protect whistleblowers and also allows for case by case determination of the types of information that could be released in order to protect individuals who may be at risk if their identities are disclosed. Cinta herself states that an Open Government Act request she had placed with the now-defunct Marianas Public Lands Authority had not been honored. Did she know that MPLA had the right (as the Legislature would) to refuse the request with just reasoning? And did she also know that as a citizen she could have taken MPLA to court to determine whether or not this refusal had been justifiable? Secondly, I am concerned that Cinta herself, who holds a law degree, had relied solely on counsel she had received. Has either Cinta or the house legal counsel ever read the Open Government Act?

I urge the public (Cinta included) to read the original Open Government Act, Public Law 8-41, in its entirety. They will see that it has proper protections in place for the constituents for whom Cinta expresses so much concern.

Cinta’s HB 15-269 is pretty simple. But what exactly would her bill achieve if passed into law? Nothing. Basically, she is simply reinforcing the status quo, which is that right now it is already up to lawmakers to voluntarily disclose their records upon request. If people are truly interested in HB 15-269, they should read it themselves, and also read the editorial that Tina Sablan wrote “pontificating” on HB 15-269. Tina’s editorial is clearcut and straightforward and cuts through all the false and misleading arguments that have been given to justify the legislature’s exemption from the Open Government Act.

The editorial can be read it here: http://www.saipantribune.com/newsstory.aspx?cat=3&newsID=69347 . It addresses questions that readers of this blog may have, such as those posed by Borego.

Let’s take a look at a concrete example of the voluntary disclosure that Cinta feels is adequate in the system that is currently in place. Recently, when citizens simply asked for disclosure of financial records within a 30-day timeframe (20 days more than allowed under a common Open Government Act request), only 13 out of 27 lawmakers actually complied with that request – and under the status quo, that is perfectly legal. Is this what citizens are supposed to accept as adequate transparency in government? Is this the type of transparency Cinta embraced when she was running for office? It is the type of transparency she is defending now. Her bill has no substance. Rather than applying the Open Government Act in its entirety to the Legislature, she watered it down to nothing and then introduced and passed it without public comment.

Ironically, the process by which Cinta’s bill was drafted and passed attests to other problems that the Open Government Act would have prevented, had it applied to the legislature. According to Cinta’s post, she met with the House Legal Counsel in the morning at “a typical Leadership Meeting.” She then requested that the legal counsel draft legislation for her to introduce at the session later that day. The drafted legislation was then introduced the same day without public notice, and then the lawmakers went into executive session without public justification. Upon resuming the session that day, the bill was passed ”swiftly and unanimously” by the House.

An attempt was made to get ahold of minutes taken during that Executive Session. The clerk had none, nor was there a tape recording of the session available. The Open Government Act not only calls for public justification for executive sessions, but also proper documentation of what occurs in them, particularly if decisions are made.

Now Cinta has said that Eugenio Sablan is misleading in saying that her bill was passed “quickly and quietly.” I ask her, “How much quicker and quieter could it be?” The bill was drafted, introduced, an executive session was held on it, and passed within less than 8 hours with zero public notice.

When drafting her bill, the House legal counsel advised her against fully applying the Open Government Act to the Legislature. The OGA (which does not apply to the Legislature) does not only focus on financial records. If applied to the Legislature the public would also be given notice as to what sessions are coming up, what bills are being introduced, what information is disclosed during sessions and meetings, and so much more. Citizens would be able to request documents concerning legislation or other matters. If a legislator felt that disclosing any type of information would be detrimental to anyone, he or she could deny the request on those grounds, and then it would be up to the judicial system to determine if there is just cause not to release information. Cinta herself claims to have experienced this when trying to get information from MPLA and her request was denied. The Open Government Act does not open up all of the books and all of the documents to the public without any safeguards for protecting certain personal and confidential records. Eugenio Sablan and other concerned citizens know this. Does Cinta?

I would like to thank Sen. Manglona and Sen. Crisostomo for drafting and introducing a proper bill that truly addresses the concerns of the citizens who want transparency in all government agencies, including the legislature. I urge the Senate to pass Senate Bill 15-96. I also urge the House to “swiftly and unanimously” pass it into law as well.

If anyone would like to share their thoughts with me, feel free to email me at glenhunter@gmail.com.

Glen Hunter

Mel said...

Glenn, well said and well done! I totally agree with your response to Ms. Kaipat's blog. I hope Jeffrey and Borego see your response...they need to get 'clear' on what the Open Govt. Act actually says. The slander against Tina Sablan and Eugenio Sablan must stop! I've known Tina for all of her life and I know she is not in the habit of writing without doing research on her topic. After reading Cinta's blog re the OGA, I too, asked myself, "Did she really READ the Open Govt. Act (8-41)? I have a copy of the OGA at home, and can concur that what Tina has written was based on facts as stated in that document. Before you make any more slanderous comments, please, Congresswoman Kaipat, do your homework, and read the Open Govt. Act (8-41)in its entirety. I also suggest that you and the other esteemed lawmakers attend Ms. Sablan's future forums
to find out what the people are really concerned about. To date, I've only seen Ms. Frica Pangelinan, Justo Quitugua,Joseph Guerrero and Absolon Waki who were interested enough to attend the forums. It crossed my mind that if the lawmakers were really interested in serving the people, they would attend the forums to find out the concerns of the people. I hope Glenn's response will clear up the confusion caused by Ms. Kaipat's blog. In fact, I hope Ms. Kaipat's confusion re the OGA will also be cleared! We need to work together for an open and honest (and efficient) govt. No longer will people remain silent and let self serving lawmakers get away with misusing funds or making 'bad' laws. They will be "under a microscope" and if they don't like it,they shouldn't run for office. 'nuff said.

CNMI Blogger said...

This post is a bit long, as I'm responding to Glen Hunter's comments.

GLEN:
I am so tired of politicians trying to pull the wool over people’s eyes.

CINTA:
I am, too. That’s one of the reasons I ran for office. I am sorry that you feel I am trying to “pull a wool over people’s eyes.” That’s never been a goal of mine. On the contrary, I believe that I have done just the opposite and OPENED people’s eyes in my short time in office.

GLEN:
What a travesty it is that a lawmaker would actually attempt to make us believe that it is no big deal that the legislature is exempt from the Open Government Act.

CINTA:
What is a travesty is misleading the public by putting words in my mouth. I never said that the Legislature’s exemption from the Open Government Act is “no big deal.” Those are your words, Glen, not mine. I said that all the fuss about this issue is being made into a bigger deal than it deserves to be. My post was an avenue for me to explain the truth of what happened -- a “behind the scenes” look, nothing more and nothing less. How you choose to interpret what I wrote or what you read into it is up to you, but I believe that the other readers of this post whom you criticized are mature enough to make their own judgments. They, too, are free to agree or disagree with me and that’s okay with me, too.

GLEN:
Forever the politician, isn’t she?

CINTA:
Given that this is only my first term in public office, Glen, don't mislead people into thinking that I've been a career politician.

Of course, you know that's not true. If anything, most people tell me I'm like no other politician they've ever known. In fact, I'm proud of that.

GLEN:
While running for office Cinta created a website for her campaign. Here is a link and a quote from her that is listed on that site (http://www.cintakaipat.com/issues.html):

"I am for an open government in which every public official is directly accountable for his or her actions. I believe corruption and favoritism in government can only be stopped if we, as voters, INSIST upon it. We have the legal grounds to do so through the Open Government Act. We need to use this important law to monitor our government's actions, and we need to come down hard on those who fail to live up to their responsibilities and betray the public trust by abusing their position for personal gain."

CINTA:
Yes, I posted this statement on my website two years. I talked about the importance of the Open Government Act and how we can use it to promote accountability in government way before it became today’s favorite topic. I still stand by that statement today.

GLEN:
How sad it is that now that citizens are attempting to right the wrong caused by the 9th legislature (exempting themselves from the OGA), Cinta is making every attempt to stop them and hinder their progress. What happened to one of the top convictions she so strongly held prior to being elected?

CINTA:
Spare us, please! How sad that you accuse me of misleading the public and then go right ahead and distort the truth! Once the bill passed the House, I turned my attention to other more pressing matters. I would like you to tell me and everyone HOW I have made “every attempt to stop the citizens and hinder [their] progress” from right a wrong? Please be specific and don’t leave anything out.

GLEN:
She mentions taking a page from Bill O’Reilly’s No Spin Zone. It is a fitting analogy, because any sensible person would understand that in essence that is what Bill O’Reilly does so well, SPIN. This latest blog entry is littered with spin.

CINTA:
Yes, Glen, I concede that using the "O'Reily Factor's No Spin Zone" may not necessarily be the best choice in analogies; nevertheless, my intent was to give a straight, truthful answer without any spin on it.

GLEN:
Eugenio Sablan never said that Cinta’s bill wanted everything BUT their financial records disclosed. Where on earth did she get that and why would she post it other than to muddle the water? Eugenio Sablan approached her directly and asked her and the rest of the legislature, “How do you feel about applying the Open Government Act to the Legislature?” And she responded on record, “Yes, I believe it should apply”.

What Mr. Sablan and other concerned citizens are attempting to do is apply the Open Government Act in its entirety to the Legislature, as it used to. The proper comment he made was that the Open Government Act deals with so much more than JUST the financial information (which is all that Cinta’s bill addresses): it requires notice for public meetings, sets guidelines for agencies that wish to go into executive or emergency sessions, provides safeguards for protecting the confidentiality of certain records including information disclosing the identity of whistleblowers, as well as much more. After reading Cinta’s bill (we received a copy after it had already passed unanimously in the House later that day from one of her colleagues), we realized that the bill only focused on the financial records of lawmakers and actually might have made it more difficult for citizens to gain access to them because it specifically limited authorization for disclosures to the lawmakers themselves.

CINTA:
Who’s muddying what water? I said that I read an article after my bill passed in which Mr. Sablan was interviewed and that the article reported the bill’s intent incorrectly by stating that my bill would have had the Legislature disclose everything BUT our financial information, and that’s simply not true.

I was also specific in the type of information that I said I agreed to keep confidential as per the advice of the legal counsel. The other stuff about notices for public meetings, emergency sessions, and what not -- for heaven's sake, WHY would I have any interest in keeping those from the public? That’s never been my intention at all. Besides, all that information is already available through the Legislative Bureau, which, as you know, no longer exempted from the Open Government Act.

GLEN:
Cinta claims that she asked House Legal Counsel Antoinette Villagomez to draft this bill for her and that Antoinette was the one who questioned full application of the Open Government Act to the Legislature. I am first concerned that the Legal Consel for the House is not aware that the Open Government Act already has provisions to protect whistleblowers and also allows for case by case determination of the types of information that could be released in order to protect individuals who may be at risk if their identities are disclosed. Cinta herself states that an Open Government Act request she had placed with the now-defunct Marianas Public Lands Authority had not been honored.

CINTA:
“Cinta claims…” To me, these words imply that I am being dishonest or that I am hiding something. I am not claiming anything, Glen. I am simply telling the truth about the events that led to the filing of the bill. How you spin it is up to you. Better yet, why don’t you go ask the Legal Counsel yourself about how this whole thing came about and compare what she says with what I wrote here? Or is the legal counsel not to be trusted either?

The bottom line for me, Glen, is that my personal integrity means EVERYTHING to me. So cast your dispersions and innuendos on my character all you want, but if given a choice between compromising my integrity and giving up public office, make no mistake that I would gladly give up my seat in a heartbeat.

GLEN:
Did she know that MPLA had the right (as the Legislature would) to refuse the request with just reasoning? And did she also know that as a citizen she could have taken MPLA to court to determine whether or not this refusal had been justifiable? Secondly, I am concerned that Cinta herself, who holds a law degree, had relied solely on counsel she had received. Has either Cinta or the house legal counsel ever read the Open Government Act?

CINTA:
Yes, of course, MPLA had that right and they did refuse the request for FULL disclosure.

As to your concern that I relied solely on the legal counsel, why wouldn’t I exercise my right and prerogative to rely on the advice of the House Legal Counsel, especially since,this wasn't intended to be a controversial bill and, at the time, neither one of us possessed some special psychic powers to foresee what a big “to do” this would become today?

I made a simple request – draft a piece of legislation for me to introduce which would make the Open Government Act fully applicable to the Legislature. That bill was drafted, I reviewed and approved it, and had my staff prepare it for pre-filing with the clerk. It was while they were doing this and trying to obtain the legal counsel's signature for pre-filing the bill that the legal counsel decided to consult me on limiting the scope of the Act to protect confidential information and informants. Although it wasn’t my original idea, after discussing the issue with the legal counsel, I thought her concern made sense and so I agreed to it.

Now, as to your suggestion that I take MPLA to court for failure to disclose all the information we requested under the Open Government Act, first of all, I may be a lawyer, but I’ve never believed that litigation is the answer to everything. On the contrary, litigation is the result of total failure to reach a compromise. Besides, unless you are prepared to spend money, litigation is not cheap.

GLEN:
I urge the public (Cinta included) to read the original Open Government Act, Public Law 8-41, in its entirety. They will see that it has proper protections in place for the constituents for whom Cinta expresses so much concern.

CINTA:
As I said, I had no reason to doubt that the House Legal Counsel did her job in drafting the bill for me. It was never my intent to tweak the Open Government Act and change it to something really horrible and meaningless as has been suggested here.

GLEN:
Cinta’s HB 15-269 is pretty simple. But what exactly would her bill achieve if passed into law? Nothing. Basically, she is simply reinforcing the status quo, which is that right now it is already up to lawmakers to voluntarily disclose their records upon request. If people are truly interested in HB 15-269, they should read it themselves, and also read the editorial that Tina Sablan wrote “pontificating” on HB 15-269. Tina’s editorial is clearcut and straightforward and cuts through all the false and misleading arguments that have been given to justify the legislature’s exemption from the Open Government Act.

The editorial can be read it here: http://www.saipantribune.com/newsstory.aspx?cat=3&newsID=69347 . It addresses questions that readers of this blog may have, such as those posed by Borego.

CINTA:
You said "But what exactly would her bill achieve if passed into law? Nothing." So, if it's nothing, then why are you in such a tizzy over this? Why all the storm of controversy when your girlfriend Tina is already securing signatures to put this issue on the ballots? No matter how unsatisfactory you find the truth to be in how the HB 15-269 got introduced, I won’t change anything because that’s precisely how and why it happened.

You also said "Basically, she is simply reinforcing the status quo, which is that right now it is already up to lawmakers to voluntarily disclose their records upon request." The operative word here is "voluntarily." HB 15-269 would have mandated disclosure. The part about who should release this (each invidual lawmaker)was an amendment by Rep. Ray Yumul. Again, I've disclosed this in the original post on this subject.

GLEN:
Let’s take a look at a concrete example of the voluntary disclosure that Cinta feels is adequate in the system that is currently in place. Recently, when citizens simply asked for disclosure of financial records within a 30-day timeframe (20 days more than allowed under a common Open Government Act request), only 13 out of 27 lawmakers actually complied with that request – and under the status quo, that is perfectly legal. Is this what citizens are supposed to accept as adequate transparency in government? Is this the type of transparency Cinta embraced when she was running for office? It is the type of transparency she is defending now. Her bill has no substance. Rather than applying the Open Government Act in its entirety to the Legislature, she watered it down to nothing and then introduced and passed it without public comment.

CINTA:
First of all, you failed to mention, since it is my integrity that your questioning here, that I was one of those first few lawmakers who voluntarily provided Tina with my office’s financial expenditures for 2006 and 2007. Moreover, I went a step further and posted such information on this blog and invited constituents to make an appointment for a face-to-face meeting at my office. As far as I know, I’m the only legislator who has done that.

Now, most people who know me know that this is my second year of my first two-year term in office. I will take responsibility for my own actions, but I refuse to take the blame for any past failings or misconduct in public office of any of the lawmakers or politicians, past or present. Again, you answered your own question. The request was for "voluntary disclosure", to which 13 of the 27 lawmakers responded. Again, I'm not defending those who didn't comply. As I've said, I voluntarily complied with the request.

GLEN:
Ironically, the process by which Cinta’s bill was drafted and passed attests to other problems that the Open Government Act would have prevented, had it applied to the legislature. According to Cinta’s post, she met with the House Legal Counsel in the morning at “a typical Leadership Meeting.” She then requested that the legal counsel draft legislation for her to introduce at the session later that day. The drafted legislation was then introduced the same day without public notice, and then the lawmakers went into executive session without public justification. Upon resuming the session that day, the bill was passed ”swiftly and unanimously” by the House.

CINTA:
I've already explained and re-explained above the sequence of events, so no need to go into tht again.

GLEN:
An attempt was made to get ahold of minutes taken during that Executive Session. The clerk had none, nor was there a tape recording of the session available. The Open Government Act not only calls for public justification for executive sessions, but also proper documentation of what occurs in them, particularly if decisions are made.

CINTA:
If the effect of passing HB 15-269 would have been “Nothing”, as you said, then how could the same bill that you already deemed to be “Nothing” also have the potential to wreak such total havoc, as you envisioned?

GLEN:
Now Cinta has said that Eugenio Sablan is misleading in saying that her bill was passed “quickly and quietly.” I ask her, “How much quicker and quieter could it be?” The bill was drafted, introduced, an executive session was held on it, and passed within less than 8 hours with zero public notice.

CINTA:
You better read my post again because I never attributed those specific quotes to Mr. Sablan.

GLEN:
When drafting her bill, the House legal counsel advised her against fully applying the Open Government Act to the Legislature. The OGA (which does not apply to the Legislature) does not only focus on financial records. If applied to the Legislature the public would also be given notice as to what sessions are coming up, what bills are being introduced, what information is disclosed during sessions and meetings, and so much more. Citizens would be able to request documents concerning legislation or other matters. If a legislator felt that disclosing any type of information would be detrimental to anyone, he or she could deny the request on those grounds, and then it would be up to the judicial system to determine if there is just cause not to release information. Cinta herself claims to have experienced this when trying to get information from MPLA and her request was denied. The Open Government Act does not open up all of the books and all of the documents to the public without any safeguards for protecting certain personal and confidential records. Eugenio Sablan and other concerned citizens know this. Does Cinta?

CINTA:
I believe I already responded to all this above.

GLEN:
I would like to thank Sen. Manglona and Sen. Crisostomo for drafting and introducing a proper bill that truly addresses the concerns of the citizens who want transparency in all government agencies, including the legislature. I urge the Senate to pass Senate Bill 15-96. I also urge the House to “swiftly and unanimously” pass it into law as well.

CINTA:
Of those Senators who passed the Senate version of the Open Government Act, how many of them were in office when the bill was passed in the 8th Legislature to exempt the Legislature from the Open Government Act? I can hazard a safe guess that since Senator Paul Manglona is the longest running Senator on the Hill, then I would say that he had a hand in enacting that law. The fact that you’re applauding his efforts to undo what he helped create in the first place is ironic. But, it’s never too late to go back and make a wrong right and, on that, yes, Senator Paul ought to be commended.

CNMI Blogger said...

Correction:

CINTA:
Of those Senators who passed the Senate version of the Open Government Act, how many of them were in office when the bill was passed in the 9th Legislature to exempt the Legislature from the Open Government Act? I can hazard a safe guess that since Senator Paul Manglona is the longest running Senator on the Hill, then I would say that he had a hand in enacting that law. The fact that you’re applauding his efforts to undo what he helped create in the first place is ironic. But, it’s never too late to go back and make a wrong right and, on that, yes, Senator Paul ought to be commended.

G said...

Cinta,

Your bill (HB 15-269) limits the extent of application of the OGA to solely the Legislature’s financial records and also limits who is at liberty to disclose them. That is all your bill would achieve if passed into law. That is the reason I am upset and the reason why I can only attribute such legislation to an attempt at hindering true legislation regarding applying the OGA fully to the Legislature.

If you asked house legal counsel to draft legislation that applied the OGA fully to the Legislature and what you received was the bill that you introduced and passed then you may want to question counsel as to how that bill does what you requested it do.

You posted a long response to my comments but you never once admitted the fact that your bill does NOT apply the OGA in its entirety to the legislature.

The spin I speak of in your post is just that. Rather than focusing in on the fact that the legislation you introduced does not adequately address the citizens’ concerns (and yours prior to taking office) you keep focusing on the "hullabaloo" this OGA topic has created.

Legislation to apply the OGA to the legislature is not a difficult thing to draft up. Simply put it is an amendment in a bill. SB 15-96 does just that.

Granted the same people in the seats now may have passed the original amendment to exclude themselves but that does not negate the fact that they are trying to undo it now.

What upset me the most was that your legislation, in my opinion, was drafted and passed to muddle the water and to make it appear that the House was trying to fix the problem. I am stating again that your legislation does not address the problem and would not in any way apply the OGA fully to the legislature. Your legislation restricts the OGA requests to just financial records and restricts the point of access to the individual lawmakers. There would be no compliance requirements what-so-ever in regards to notices for public meetings, setting guidelines for going into executive or emergency sessions, as well as much much more.

Please understand that my only concern is that the OGA be applied fully to the Legislature. Any legislation that falls short of that will not suffice. Arguments have been made to justify why it shouldn't apply fully to the Legislature. Not one argument raised holds water. If you have any arguments that I have not heard and negated then please share them with me. The one that the House Legal Counsel raised regarding confidentiality is already covered under the current OGA; therefore that argument is not a justifiable reason to limit the OGA application to the Legislature. SB 15-96 applies the OGA to the legislature in its entirety. I hope that it passes the Senate and I hope that when it gets to the House you and your colleagues pass it.

Glen

G said...

original OGA Law

Jeffrey C. Turbitt said...

For the record, I complimented Cinta on taking the time to explain her thoughts and reasoning on the bill in such detail. That's it. I didn't endorse it or "blindly embrace" it, but thanks for mangling and misinterpreting my words again, Glen. I read Boni's post she didn't do anything but try to educate herself on the issue from a respected member of the community.

G said...

perhaps i jumped the gun due to my being very upset at the spin she put on the OGA being applied to the legislature. you commended her on explaining things, however i did not feel the same way.

CNMI Blogger said...

No point in beating a dead horse. I rest my case.

The Saipan Blogger アンジェロ・ビラゴメズ said...

Glen, why do you hate the CNMI?