• By Mar-Vc Cagurangan

OPA: Brown hired at PAG behind closed doors, received illegal pay raises

(Updated)

Senatorial candidate Joanne Brown received anomalous pay raises when she was general manager of the Port Authority of Guam, a position for which she was hired behind closed doors, according to the office of Public Accountability's audit report released Wednesday.

Brown received a total of nine salary adjustments since she was hired at the port authority until her retirement in 2019, OPA said.

"Of the nine pay adjustments provided to the former general manager, seven were due to formal performance evaluations and two pay adjustments were as a result of PAG’s Compensation and Classification Plan," OPA said, noting that there was no record of formal performance review by the Board of Directors.

"While the Board of Directors ratified the October 2016 and September 2018 pay adjustments, the former general manager’s pay adjustments from October 2013 through February 2018 were not ratified," the audit said.

Brown had a base salary of $158,153, which went up to $164,970 under the Port Compensation and Classification Plan for Unclassified Employees at the 25th market percentile, which was adopted on Aug. 28, 2018.

OPA said the law requires governing boards to conduct performance evaluations of the agency's chief executive six months after appointment and every 12 months thereafter. The PAG board did not review Brown's performance in 2017 and 2018.

"As a result, we questioned PAG’s basis for providing the former general manager a pay increase for that period," OPA said.

The incumbent general manager, Rory Respicio, said his predecessor -- with whom he has been odds over policy differences -- "will have to pay back all of the money she received illegally."

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OPA also found that the Board of Directors discussed and decided on the hiring of Brown in an executive session.

"Under no circumstances shall a public agency hold an executive or closed meeting to discuss salaries, salary levels, and salary adjustments of any employee or officer. Further, under no circumstances shall a public agency vote on any matter before it during an executive or closed meeting," OPA said.

Since Brown was "hired illegally," Respicio said, her service credits to the retirement fund and the calculation for her annual retirement annuity for all the years she was at the port are likely to be affected."

"I am sure Joanne Brown will take her usual stance and blame others now that the Public Auditor has exposed her illegal pay raises but the real question is whether she will be held criminally liable," Respicio said. "We most certainly will be discussing this matter further with the board to determine how we can go about getting back the money she illegally took from the Port and the people of Guam.”

When reached for comment, Brown said she expected to receive personal attacks throughout the campaign as she is running for senator "to tackle corruption in government."

"I know that fighting corruption will compel the corrupt to make every effort to mask their misdeeds and tear me down. This is an example of it," Brown said. "The corrupt will claim to be faithful members of society trying to improve the quality of life for every Guamanian all while raiding the treasury behind our backs. I stand by my record of government service and I am ready to take on these corrupted individuals, whomever they are and wherever they may be. Count on it.”

Brown, who served six terms in the legislature before taking a political hiatus in 2006, lashed back at Respicio.

“It is no secret that Rory Respicio arrogantly walked into the Port Authority of Guam with an agenda in mind to interfere with pending litigation before the Supreme Court and to execute political payoffs," she said.

Brown was referring to the Y2K Corporation's case, in which the high court ruled in favor of PAG in its appeal against the trial court’s decision to let an arbitration panel award $14 million to the company that leased the government-owned Hotel Wharf in 2016.

"Without demonstrating any capability and competency to run the Port Authority, Rory Respicio is attempting to nullify the very migration pay plan that has allowed him to start at the top with a very comfortable salary of $170,000."

"I have great respect for every PAG Board member I had the honor to serve with as general manager; and I have always respected and stood by their guidance, direction and authority on everyday matters concerning the Port. During my time as general manager, I showed up to work, I was transparent with my actions and I followed the process according to and authorized by the PAG Board, rules and regulations and the laws of Guam," she added.

Pubic Auditor Benjamin Cruz said the audit "serves as a reminder to all boards, commissions, and government officials that the people do not yield their individual rights to the public agency, which serves them."

The Board of Directors complied with the Open Government Law when they discussed and voted on the approval of PAG’s implementation of the 25th market percentile pay adjustments. However, OPA added, they violated the spirit of the law when discussions on the cost of the migration took place during working sessions that were not open to the public

"The Board of Directors should have been more transparent with their working sessions on what aided their decision to approve the migration of the certified, technical and professional personnel compensation to the 25th market percentile," Cruz said. "A working session is worse than an executive session because it has no minutes and we will never know what was discussed.”

OPA found that there were 172 employees below the 25th market percentil implementation range and 183 employees that were above the 25th market percentile implementation range. The board and management granted a 3 percent increase to the 183 employees. This action granted employees to exceed the maximum step of their respective position’s pay grade implementation range, as long as the employee did not exceed Step 20 of that pay grade, OPA said.

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